Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

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WHAT IS A RACCOON?  The raccoon is a medium-sized mammal with a black mask and ringed tail.  Its fur is gray, brown, or reddish black.  This mixture of light and dark colors helps it to camouflage, or blend into the forest.  Adult raccoons weigh 15 - 20 pounds, but may weigh as much as 40.   The raccoon’s tracks look like tiny human hand and footprints, but raccoons can’t oppose their thumbs (fold their thumb across their palm) like people can.  Raccoons can open garbage cans, jars, and latches.  The raccoon’s scientific name, “lotor,” means “washer” because it seems to wash its food.  However, the raccoon does not always dip its food in water.  It may also eat the food even if it is still dirty.  Scientists used to think that the raccoon didn’t have enough saliva (spit) to swallow its food.  They thought the raccoon needed to wet its food to be able to swallow it.  But now, we know that raccoons do have enough saliva.  The new reason scientists think raccoons wash their food is to press it and squash it to make sure there are no sharp bones or dangerous bits in the food.  The name, “raccoon,” may have come from the Algonquin Indian word “arukun,” which means “he who scratches with his hands.”  

WHERE DO RACCOONS LIVE?  The raccoon lives in almost all areas of the United States and in southern Canada and northern Mexico.  Although it prefers to live in woods near a stream or marsh, the raccoon is a very adaptable animal.  Instead of using a tree to sleep in, it can use a chimney or a ditch culvert.  Because many of the raccoon’s natural habitat areas are being destroyed, it moves in closer to man, using the same habitat, and even eating the same foods as people. 

WHAT DO RACCOONS EAT?  In the wild, a raccoon is omnivorous, eating plants and animals.  Its menu includes plants like berries, acorns, and grapes.  It also eats animals including baby mice, baby birds & eggs, frogs, crayfish, fiddler crabs, fish, and even some snakes.  Around people, the raccoon loves to eat the corn in our gardens, garbage, and even animals that have been killed by cars.  Basically, the raccoon can live almost anywhere and eat almost anything.  It can walk, run, climb, and swim.  It usually walks on all fours, but can stand up straight to see over tall stumps or grasses.  Raccoons live seven to ten years.

WHAT ABOUT RACCOON HOMES and BABIES?  Raccoons are usually nocturnal (night animals), but in warm states, like Florida, they often come out during the day.  If there is a lot of food nearby, raccoons don’t travel much and have a small territory.  They choose several trees inside their home range that they like to sleep in, and use different trees on different nights.  Raccoons usually live alone, and the father does not help the mother to raise the babies.  Three to seven babies are born around February.  When they are ten weeks old, the babies leave the den and follow their mother around learning to hunt.  They stay near her until the fall, when they set out on their own.  Raccoons do not hibernate, but they may eat extra food in the autumn to store energy.

WHAT ABOUT RABIES?  Raccoons can catch diseases like rabies and distemper which make them act very strangely.  A healthy raccoon will hardly ever walk right up to a person (unless someone has been feeding it).  If a raccoon does this, it may be sick, and a grown-up should be told.  Often, the raccoons that get hit by cars are the sick ones (or maybe they were trying to eat other road kills).  People can catch rabies if they are bitten.  If you get bitten, you must get shots to stop you from getting the disease.  Shots may not feel good, but they’re definitely better than getting the disease and dying.  The best thing to do is NEVER touch, feed, or go near a wild animal.  You look very tall and dangerous to a wild animal.  It may bite you because it is scared.  If you stay away from the animal, it won’t be able to bite you!

Raccoon Hind Track - - - - Front Track

RESOURCES:

Stokes, Donald & Lillian. Animal Tracking and Behavior. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1986.
Whitaker, John O. Jr. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A Knopf, Inc. New York. 1993. Rue, Leonard Lee III. Complete Guide to Game Animals. USA: Grolier Book Clubs, Inc., 1981.
Provided by the

Pelotes Island Nature Preserve
http://pelotes.jea.com

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