Raccoon, Procyon lotor
DIET: Rodents, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, fruit, eggs, scavenged items.
PREDATORS: Mountain lions, bobcats, domestic dogs, coyotes, large raptors.
HABITAT: Wooded areas, as well as human-occupied areas like cities, neighborhoods, and campgrounds.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Least concern.
WHERE TO OBSERVE IN SB: Neighborhoods.
Raccoons are familiar creatures in many cities, neighborhoods, and campgrounds. Their black mask makes them easily identifiable, and they are known to be bold and very intelligent. They are often seen climbing in trees and overgrown hedges.
Raccoons have a distinctive black mask and ringed tail. They are larger than housecats but smaller than the average dog. Their bodies are usually a grey-brown color with black markings. Their eyes appear to glow yellow at night.
Role in Food Chain
Like skunks and opossums, raccoons are omnivores. They are not excellent hunters but they are sometimes capable of catching and eating rodents, especially young rats, mice, and gophers, and often prey on aquatic animals, such as frogs, fish, and crayfish. If they gain access to a chicken coop, they may attack the sleeping chickens and eat them. Sometimes they eat fruit, which they may find in gardens and on fruit trees in people's yards. Garbage is another source of food, although not a healthy one, and garbage cans that are improperly secured will sometimes get knocked over by hungry raccoons. Other foods they eat include insects and eggs. They generally eat whatever is available.
Raccoons are preyed on by larger wild mammals, such as mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes. Domestic dogs also can kill and eat a raccoon. Young raccoons sometimes fall prey to large owls and eagles.
Habitat and Range
Raccoons are found in much of North America (the US, Mexico, and southern Canada) and in some parts of Europe and Asia. Their natural habitat is wooded areas, but they have adapted well to living in cities and neighborhoods too. Places they can use as dens include overgrown hedges, holes in trees, and crawlspaces, to name a few. They like to be near a water source where they can hunt- backyard fishponds are one such water source. Campgrounds with suitable habitat usually are home to raccoons, as there is plenty of food.
Raccoons are nocturnal, and during the day they sleep in their dens. They change dens every few days, not always staying in one place for a long time.
Raccoons mate in March or April, and give birth about 65 days later. The mother stays with the kits in one den until they are old enough to move from den to den.
In areas with a cold winter, raccoons stay in their dens if it's too cold to forage, but they will not truly hibernate.
Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not wash their food. Instead, they are feeling their food before they eat it. The water makes their nerves more sensitive so they can get precise information about the shape and texture of their food.
Relationship with Humans
The raccoon is a very common animal in urban and residential settings, partly because of the abundance of food. Raccoons have adapted well to living near people, so they are not experiencing much habitat loss. They have a reputation as "bandits," raiding trashcans and eating pet food, but by securing your trash and feeding your pets inside you can prevent these problems.
Raccoons sometimes get in fights with pets, so make sure your cats and dogs are vaccinated against rabies and keep them inside at night.
In some neighborhoods and campgrounds, raccoons have become too accustomed to humans and must be euthanized. However, raccoons are not usually dangerous unless you approach them or they have become used to people offering them food.
How to Observe Raccoons
Raccoons typically come out late at night, except in areas where they are frequently fed by people. If you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a large animal on your fence, it is likely a raccoon. If you see a raccoon, stay a reasonable distance away from it and watch quietly. Never feed raccoons.
Image credits: Raccoon- homar, Pixabay, Creative Commons CC0.