The raccoon is a common "crook," of gardens, easily recognizable by its face resembling a black mask and its furry, ringed tail. It is a nocturnal animal, becoming more active during the night. It spends the nighttime hours foraging for food in both urban and rural areas. The raccoon is highly dexterous with its front paws, using them as if they were hands. Its scientific name, Procyon lotor, means "washer." It often appears as though it is washing its food in water.
For raccoons, the night is the time for feeding. They are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Raccoons enjoy nuts, fruits, berries, seeds, insects, frogs, turtles, eggs, crayfish, carrion (dead animals), and even garbage! They are fond of wooded areas close to water and can often be seen walking by a pond or stream, "dunking" their food in the water.
In November, raccoons gain weight to build up energy reserves for the winter when they become less active. They can increase their weight by up to 120%! Raccoons do not hibernate; instead, they rest in warm places during the winter months.
Raccoons mate in February or early March and typically have an average litter size of 4 cubs or offspring. The cubs are born in a hollow tree, a cave, a pile of brush, or in the crevices of rocks during April or May. Raccoons often share a common den, and it's possible to find up to 24 animals in a single tree hollow!
The newborn are helpless, with black skin and a yellowish-gray fur. They are born with their eyes closed and weigh only a few ounces. After a few months, the cubs start venturing out on short trips from the den. Furthermore, the mothers carry them by grasping the scruff of their neck, similar to how a cat carries its kittens. By the end of summer, the raccoon cubs become more independent but still stay with their mother during the early winter period.
Young raccoons "disperse" the following spring when they are around 13 months old and a new litter is about to be born. Raccoons have an average lifespan of 5 years.
Historically, Native Americans and European colonizers used to hunt raccoons for food and to make clothing. Trappers would make money by selling raccoon pelts, also known as furs. Today, people still profit from trapping raccoons using traps or hunting them with scent hounds. The fur is used to make various types of garments. Additionally, people enjoy observing and photographing raccoons as a recreational activity.
Wild animals are not good pets! Raccoons can transmit diseases such as distemper virus. If you see a wild animal behaving strangely, stay away from it and ask an adult to call a natural resources guardian.
These animals should live between 10 to 15 years, but currently in captivity, they only live up to 5 years.
They are very agile and can run at speeds of up to 24 km/h. They are close relatives of bears.
Their dark mask around the eyes actually serves a very special function. The black fur on their faces helps them have better vision. The dark color absorbs light, reducing reflections, which allows them to see more clearly.
They are part of the oldest animals on the planet, with evidence suggesting that raccoons have existed for over 25 million years.
Raccoons have a communication language consisting of over 50 sounds through which they communicate with each other.
Their hind legs can rotate more than 180 degrees, allowing them to climb trees with great ease. Additionally, their paws are among the most precise and strong in the animal kingdom.
A fascinating fact about raccoons is that they purr when they feel comfortable, similar to cats. They are also known to be attracted to shiny objects and have a curious fascination with them.
Important characteristics of raccoons and their role in the environment
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are fascinating creatures that play a significant role in the environment. Some of their notable characteristics and their contributions to the ecosystem are as follows:
Adaptability: Raccoons are known for their ability to adapt to various environments. They can live in a variety of habitats, from forests and wetlands to urban areas, allowing them to survive in different environmental conditions.
Omnivorous Diet: They are omnivores, meaning their diet is diverse and may include fruits, nuts, insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, carrion, and human food. This dietary flexibility helps maintain ecosystem balance by controlling some prey populations and aiding in seed dispersal.
Importance in the Food Chain: Raccoons are significant predators and also serve as prey for other animals, such as birds of prey and large carnivores. By occupying a place in the food chain, they help maintain the balance between different species in the ecosystem.
Pollinators and Seed Dispersers: By feeding on fruits and insects, raccoons indirectly contribute to plant pollination and seed dispersal in their environment, facilitating vegetation regeneration and diversity.
Pest Control: Raccoons are excellent hunters of small animals like mice, rats, and certain insect pests, helping to keep certain populations in check that might otherwise cause damage to crops or property.
Influence in Urban Ecosystems: While often considered a nuisance in urban areas due to their scavenging behavior in trash containers, their presence can also have a positive impact by helping to keep waste clean and preventing the accumulation of certain refuse.
Role in Biodiversity: As part of the native wildlife, raccoons are essential for maintaining biodiversity in their natural habitat, promoting overall ecosystem health and stability.
In summary, raccoons are versatile and valuable animals for the environment. Their presence and activities within the ecosystem contribute to maintaining natural balance and promoting biological diversity, making them a significant part of the environment they inhabit.
What should you do if you find an injured raccoon?
Rabies Vector Animal – DO NOT HANDLE/CONTAIN OR PICK UP!
Call Keeper of the Wild
Not uncommon for raccoons to be out during the day as they are nursing mothers that need to feed during the day so they can protect their babies in the evening from night predators.
If orphaned and healthy, we try to reunite with mother
if possible. Contact Debbie Jolly Melton for advice (843-607-2521