North American Raccoon: Procyon Lotor
What Are Raccoons?
The raccoon is a medium-sized mammal that is easily identified by its black/white face, a bushy tail, humped posture, and alternating black and gray fur rings. Raccoons can vary from 12 to 36 pounds in weight, with some exceptionally large coons reaching 50 pounds.
They range in total length from 23 to 38 inches, including a 7-16 inch tail. It is easy to identify tracks left by raccoons, as they are quite similar to human handprints. Tracks show five toes on both forefeet and hindfeet. Raccoons are renowned for their cleverness. They have the ability to turn doorknobs and open containers. 1Go To Source mass.gov -“Learn about raccoons”
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What Does A Raccoon Eat?
Raccoons are omnivores, like humans. Raccoons, like humans, also have teeth intended to tear up meat or grind up plant matter. They are outstanding problem solvers and can manipulate objects with their paws and fingers, helping them adapt well to changing environments.
Diet Of Rural Raccoons
Rural areas provide plenty of plants and hunting grounds for raccoons. This animal will hang around water sources to eat fish and other prey that live within the water.
All kinds of fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other grain types are included in plant foods.
Crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles, turtle eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and eggs of ground-nesting birds are animal foods. 2Go To Source aphis.usda.gov -“Living With Wildlife Raccoons”
Diet Of Urban Raccoons
Raccoons are lazy because they don’t like hunting or catching their food. They prefer food that is available readily. They often adapt to find food and will return to steady food sources. With their habitats becoming smaller or vanishing, raccoons have become a city animal.
Raccoons have learned how to open coolers and garbage cans with latches. They will help themselves to hamburgers and hotdogs at a campsite and eat discarded dinner items, such as poultry, crabs, shrimp, donuts, bread, watermelon, and peanut butter and jelly sandwich leftover from a trash can. Raccoons aren’t very picky, and they don’t care if food is fresh or rotten. They’ve also been seen eating fresh roadkill.
Also, without pet food, the urban raccoon diet would not be complete. Especially in warmer climates, the food plate is often left behind when pet owners bring their animals inside for the night. There’s no doubt that by morning it will be empty. Raccoons also have a strong sense of memory in that they will remember exactly where the food dish was or where the trash could be, and night after night, they will return.
Between a mother and offspring and among siblings, the strongest social bonds form. Although the raccoon was once thought to be a solitary mammal, recent research has shown that raccoons will form tiny groups in some habitats.
The density of raccoons in a habitat will affect individuals’ sociality in a population to a large extent. Males will become territorial of their home range and defend it against intruders when resources are broadly dispersed and clumped together.
Females will occupy areas where food resources and shelter are available, while males will move to areas that give women access to them. It is not uncommon to see groups of raccoons forging and feeding together in regions with clustered resources.
In urban and suburban environments, the density of raccoons is often greater. The time of year also influences the sociality of raccoons. Female raccoons become less social towards non-relatives from late spring to early fall. Raccoons will either den with their siblings and mother during the winter and into spring or share communal dens with other raccoons. 3Go To Source animalcognitionlab.org -“Raccoon Natural History”
Raccoon Reproduction Cycle
Raccoon males frequently expand their home ranges during the mating season, presumably to include the home ranges of more females as potential mates. During the mating season, females are sometimes found temporarily struggling with males. There is no association between males and females after mating.
There is usually one litter per year for Racoons. The size of litter ranges from 3 to 7, but typically 4. From the time the mother becomes pregnant to the moment the babies are born, 63 to 65 days pass.
In women, sexual maturity often occurs before they are one year old and men at two years of age. The season for mating is from February to June, with most of the mating in March. Populations in the north tend to breed earlier than in the south.
In a tree den, young people are born blind and helpless, their eyes open at the age of 18 to 24 days, and they are weaned after 70 days. Young males regularly forage with their mother at night at 20 weeks of age and continue to stay with her in the den. Even after they have reached maturity, mothers and young males often den nearby. 4Go To Source biokids.umich.edu -“Raccoon Procyon lotor”
Typical Raccoon Habitats
In the tropics, raccoons originally lived where they could be found foraging along riverbanks. They moved to the north of the continent over time, adapting successfully to new territories and expanding their diet. Traditionally, they live in dusk-emerging tree cavities or burrows to hunt frogs and crustaceans while keeping an eye out for predators like coyotes and foxes.
Barns helped their migration to the north, offering refuge from the north’s cold winters. The highly adaptive animals can now be found as far north as Alaska. Initially kept in North America’s deciduous and mixed forests, the species’ impressive ability to adapt allowed the animal to move into a wide variety of habitats, from mountainous terrain to large cities.
During the 1920s, the first urban sighting was in Cincinnati. Raccoon populations are doing very well in urban areas, mainly due to restrictions on hunting and trapping, a general lack of predators, and an abundance of human food available. Depending on habitat and food supply, the size of a raccoon’s home range varies. Its home range generally spans approximately one mile in urban areas. 5Go To Source pbs.org -“Raccoon Nation – Raccoon Facts”
Raccoon Distribution In North America
With the exception of parts of the Rocky Mountains and southwestern states like Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, the raccoon is native to North America and can be found throughout the United States.
It can also be found in Canada, Mexico, and South America’s northern-most regions. The raccoon species has spread to other parts of the globe during the 20th century and now has an extensive presence in countries such as Germany, Russia, and Japan.
Diseases Carried By Raccoons
Raccoons may look cute and non-threatening, but through their bodily waste, bites, or scratches, these animals can transfer potentially fatal diseases. It’s fine to admire these animals from a distance but try to avoid physical contact at all times. Many diseased raccoons can’t be identified by merely looking at the animal, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Common diseases carried by raccoons include:
Raccoons With Salmonella
Salmonella is found in raccoon feces and is propagated through them. By incidental ingestion, humans can catch this disease by transferring the microorganisms from their hands to their mouths. The bacteria must also be removed even when raccoons are taken off any property.
Leptospirosis In Raccoons
Leptospirosis is a disease of rats, raccoons, and some other wild and domestic animals caused by Leptospira bacteria carried in the urine. In both humans and a broad range of animals, including dogs, leptospirosis may occur.
People and animals can become infected by getting or swallowing water or soil contaminated with urine from infected animals on their skin or in their nose, mouth, throat, or eyes. Dogs are at greater risk of infection because they often drink or lick contaminated water on the ground; infected dogs can get seriously ill or even die. 6Go To Source kingcounty.gov -“Diseases from raccoons and other wildlife”
Baylisascaris procyonis is a ubiquitous roundworm found throughout North America, predominantly in raccoons. Raccoons are typically asymptomatic when infected, but the lavaral can lead to fatal human disease or serious neurological outcomes if not treated rapidly.
In the United States, in the midwestern and northeastern regions and along the West Coast, Baylisascaris procyonis is more often enzootic in raccoons. In the United States, Baylisascariasis is not a nationally reportable disease, and little is known about how commonly it occurs within humans. 7Go To Source cdc.gov -“Raccoon Roundworm Infection Associated with Central Nervous System Disease and Ocular Disease”
Rabies Carrying Raccoons
Animals of the United States most often infected with rabies are raccoons, skunks, and foxes. All bites by wildlife must be considered a possible rabies virus exposure.
Wildlife signs of rabies cannot be reliably interpreted; therefore, any animal that has bitten a human should be euthanized and submitted for rabies testing. If the test results are negative, it can be assumed that the saliva does not contain any virus, and post-exposure prophylaxis is not required for the person exposed. 8Go To Source cdc.gov -“Terrestrial carnivores: raccoons, skunks and foxes”
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Learn about Raccoons.” Mass.Gov, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-raccoons. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
- USDA Wildlife Services. “Living With Wildlife Raccoons.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, USDA Wildlife Services, 1998, www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/living/raccoons.pdf.
- “Animal Cognition Lab.” Animal Behavior & Cognition Lab, animalcognitionlab.org/raccoon/natural-history. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
- Fox, R. 2001. “Procyon lotor” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 18, 2021 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Procyon_lotor/
- “Raccoon Nation | Raccoon Facts | Nature | PBS.” PBS, www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/raccoon-nation-raccoon-fact-sheet/7553. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
- “Diseases from Raccoons and Other Wildlife.” King County, www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/communicable-diseases/zoonotic/facts-resources/diseases-by-animal/raccoons.aspx#:~:text=Leptospirosis%20is%20a%20disease%20caused,range%20of%20animals%2C%20including%20dogs. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
- Sircar, Anita. “Raccoon Roundworm Infection Associated with Central Nervous System Disease and Ocular Disease — Six States, 2013–2015 | MMWR.” Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, CDC, 9 Sept. 2016, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6535a2.htm.
- “Other Wild Animals | Exposure | Rabies | CDC.” Center For Disease Control And Prevention, CDC, www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/animals/other.html. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.