The raccoon is a bear-like mammal of medium size. Its fur is gray to brown, with a black mask surrounding its eyes and white fur on the outside of the mask, around its nose, and a stripe running from its nose to its forehead. It has a ringed, bushy, tail and five toes of each of its black paws. Its paws resemble human hands to some extent. Their toes, being flexible, help them to grab, hold and pull things apart. The raccoon is an excellent climber and is able to descend a tree face first or backward.
The raccoon is a native of North America and lives throughout the United States, as well as parts of Mexico, Canada, and the north of South America. In the 20th century it was introduced elsewhere in the world and now is common in Russia, Germany, and Japan. Raccoons are able to live in a wide range of habitats from cold grasslands to warm, tropical areas. They need to be close by water and prefer to inhabit the moist woodland area, but also live in farmland, suburban, and urban areas.
Raccoons were previously thought to be generally solitary, however, there is now evidence that these animals engage in sex-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to 4 individuals, in order to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders. Raccoons are usually nocturnal, but they are sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources. They don't travel further than necessary, only as far as they need to in order to find food. Raccoons don't hibernate but in winter they tend to stay sleeping in their dens for several weeks. These animals prefer to build their dens in trees, but will also use woodchuck burrows, mines, caves, deserted buildings, garages, barns, rain sewers, or houses. They are strong swimmers, although somewhat reluctant ones, because swimming makes them heavier, as their fur is not waterproof. In order to communicate with each other raccoons make a range of noises including hisses, screams, whistles, growls, and snarls.
Raccoons are omnivores and what they eat depends greatly on their environment. They will commonly eat fruits, plants, nuts, berries, rodents, frogs, eggs, insects, and crayfish. In an urban setting, they will sift through garbage for food. Most of their diet is invertebrates and plants.
Raccoons are polygynandrous (promiscuous) meaning that both the males and the females have multiple mates. During the breeding season, males often extend their territory, presumably to encompass the home ranges of potential mates. Raccoons usually breed from February to June. Northern populations usually breed earlier than those in the south. Following a gestation period of about 2 months, the female gives birth to 4-5 kits or cubs. From about 20 weeks old the kits forage with their mother during the night and remain living in her den. Weaning occurs at about 70 days. In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many young females will stay close to the home range of their mother, young males can sometimes move more than 20 km (12 mi) away.
Raccoons have few predators but can be attacked by cougars, coyotes, and bobcats. Disease, infection, and cars accidents are the primary threats.
No overall population estimate is available for raccoons. According to IUCN, this species is generally quite common in North and Central America with an increasing population trend. The estimated population in the Caucasus region is about 20,000 animals. In Germany, in 2012 the estimated number is more than a million. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.
Raccoons control the populations of their primary prey. Where they mainly eat one type of prey, e.g. insects, crayfish, or clams, this can impact a population to a large extent.