With a good understanding of these masked creatures and their behavior, you can make an educated decision on what to do if one or five are making your property their home.
1. WHAT ARE RACCOONS?
Raccoons are native to North America and are a member of the mammal family. The scientific name for a raccoon is Procyon Lotor.
Is a raccoon a rodent? No. The raccoon is a part of the Carnivora order.
The Mammal Species of the World recognized 22 subspecies of raccoons. Four of them are found only on the Caribbean and Central American islands: Tres Marias raccoon, Barbados raccoon, Guadeloupe raccoon and the Bahaman raccoon.
Raccoons are distant cousins of bears, and they’re exceptionally intelligent. They have a highly developed sense of sight, hearing and touch.
2. WHAT IS A GROUP OF RACCOONS CALLED?
A group of raccoons is known as a gaze. Communal dens of raccoons can contain as many as 23 members, but most have just four to five.
3. WHAT DO RACCOONS LOOK LIKE?
Raccoons are the largest members of the Procyonid family, with the average length being between 16” and 28”. Weight can range from 8 to 20 pounds.
Their grayish coats consist mainly of dense underfur, which helps keep them warm in cold weather.
Raccoons have two very distinct features:
- Facial markings
Raccoon feet are extremely dexterous, and their facial features resemble a mask.
These furry creatures have a broad head with a pointed snout and round ears.
Baby raccoons are born without facial masks, which makes their appearance more similar to a puppy than an adult raccoon. Babies develop their masks and coat color features at around the 10-day mark.
Raccoon fur colors and sizes will vary from albino to brown, depending on the subspecies.
- Eastern Raccoon: Small size and dark-colored fur. This species is found mostly in Canada and the Eastern United States.
- Florida Raccoon: Medium size with a dark-colored coat. As you may have guessed, this species is found in Florida – specifically the peninsular region.
- Key Vaca Raccoon: Very small and light in color; found mostly in the Florida Keys region.
- Snake River Valley Raccoon: Big raccoons with pale-colored fur. This species is found primarily in the Snake River drainage area in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and California.
- Barbados Raccoon: Small in size and dark in color, this species is only found on the island of Barbados.
- Texas Raccoon: A large subspecies with a gray-colored coat. These raccoons are found in Texas (aside from extreme northern and western areas), Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and certain parts of Mexico.
- Baja California Raccoon: Large and pale-furred. This subspecies is found in the southern region of Baja, California.
- Torch Key Raccoon: Small and pale, this subspecies is found in the Big Pine Key Group of the Florida Keys.
- Colorado Desert Raccoon: One of the palest subspecies of raccoons; found in Colorado, Utah and northwestern parts of New Mexico.
As you can see, raccoons come in all sizes and colors, but they all have similar features. You won’t find a hairless raccoon (unless it has mange), or a subspecies without dexterous hands. However, some paler subspecies have less prominent facial masks.
Search for images of raccoons, and you’ll get a better idea of what these mammals look like.
4. WHAT DO RACCOONS EAT?
Do raccoons (attack) eat cats, or eat meat in general? What about chickens, birds, or rats? What do raccoons eat in the wild?
Raccoons belong to the Carnivora order, but they are considered omnivores and scavengers. In other words, they’ll eat just about anything they can get their hands on. Raccoon teeth are adapted to their omnivorous diet.
When living in urban areas, these creatures turn to humans — specifically their garbage cans — for food. They love sweet fruits and invertebrates.
In the wild, a raccoon’s diet consists of around 40% invertebrates, 33% plants and 27% vertebrates.
In the spring, they eat mostly worms, insects, fruits, and nuts. Larger birds and mammals are only eaten on occasion. They prefer food that’s easier to catch, like bird eggs, fish and amphibians.
If a raccoon could choose its own menu, it would probably eat some (or most) of the following foods:
- Waterfowl eggs
In the fall, their diets consist of fatty foods that are high in calories to help them survive the winter. Corn is a staple in their fall diet, but they will also eat beechnuts, acorns, grapes, and hazelnuts if available.
5. WHAT WILD BABY RACCOONS EAT
Wild baby raccoons will drink their mother’s milk for the first 8-9 weeks of their lives. After that, they move on to a solid food diet, which consists mostly of nuts, plants, berries, insects, rodents, and frogs.
6. RACCOONS AND DOUSING
Raccoons may have no problem rummaging through your garbage for food, but these creatures are surprisingly clean and picky when it comes to their food.
Aside from their characteristic masks, the unique raccoon behavior of washing food is one of this animal’s best-known qualities. And this trait is what helped this mammal earn its scientific name: the “Lotor” in Procyon lotor translates to “washer” in English.
Interestingly, raccoons in captivity will carry their food to a water source to douse it and clean it before eating it. But this behavior has never been observed in the wild. Rather, raccoons will search for food near the shoreline, and rub the food with their fingers under the water. Sometimes, they’ll even remove unwanted parts.
7. WHERE DO RACCOONS LIVE?
Do raccoons live in trees? Do raccoons even climb trees? Yes, and yes. And while they can climb and live in trees, they can also live in a wide range of other habitats. In fact, their habitats are just as diverse as their diets.
The only thing a raccoon requires is food, water and a protected area for safe denning.
While they can live just about anywhere, they prefer floodplain forests, hardwood swamps, salt- and freshwater marshes and farmland. Of course, you’ll also find raccoons living in urban cities, which is common in North America.
Raccoons can and do climb trees very well. In fact, they rely on trees and other vertical structures to escape danger.
They also change denning and hole locations nearly every night to escape the watchful eyes of predators.
Adult male raccoons are solitary by nature. Matriarchal family groups are highly social. Members feed and den together when cooler weather sets in.
8. ARE RACCOONS NOCTURNAL?
Yes, raccoons are nocturnal creatures.
While they prefer to hunt after dark, they will sometimes venture out of their dens during the day to forage for food.
People are often scared of raccoons that come out in the daytime and assume they all have rabies. It is true that rabid raccoons exhibit unusual behaviors, like venturing out during the day, but not all raccoons are rabid if they’re out during the day.
9. DO RACCOONS HIBERNATE?
No, raccoons do not hibernate in the traditional sense. But they do stay in their dens for several weeks at a time to avoid the cold. Similar to hibernation, raccoons enter a state known as torpor, which allows them to stay asleep and curled up in their dens for long periods of time.
While in this state, their body temperatures lower, and a spike of insulin production decreases blood sugar levels. By significantly reducing their energy usage, raccoons can survive the winter without having to forage for food every day.
But when the weather is warm enough, they will wake and venture outside the den to find food before scurrying back to their dens.
Just before winter, raccoons fatten up, and they use these fat stores while hiding away in their dens. Most of the fat is accumulated in their tails, which they wrap around themselves to stay warm.
Raccoons that live in colder climate are far less active in the winter, but those that live in warmer regions of the world may stay active all year long.
By the end of winter, raccoons may lose 14-50% of their body weight, depending on the severity of the winter.
Raccoons may make their dens (and nests) in hollow trees, tree roosts, tree nests, in the ground, in rocks, or even in barns or other abandoned man-made structures.
10. WHEN DO RACCOONS HAVE BABIES?
Breeding season typically begins in January or February in northern areas, but March marks the start of the season in most areas of the world.
Most raccoon babies are born in May, but it’s not uncommon for some raccoon moms to give birth as early as March or as late as September.
In areas where the weather is warm year-round, raccoons may be born all throughout the year.
Male raccoons mate with many females in succession, but females are monogamous. Once they’ve mated, they will refuse all other males. Juvenile females will often mate in their first year of life, but juvenile males usually have to wait until their second year because of competition.
Pregnancy lasts approximately 63 days. In northern regions, it’s not uncommon for females to have litters of 3-5 babies at a time. In southern regions, litters of 2-3 are more common.
Babies are born without their teeth, and their eyes are closed. At two weeks, their eyes open, and their teeth erupt at around 20 days.
Babies will stay in the den for the first eight weeks and survive on their mother’s milk. Once they reach eight weeks, they will venture out and hunt for food with mom. Male raccoons do not play a role in raising babies.
The mother teaches her young how to hunt, swim and climb in the first few months of their lives. The family will stay together until the mother has her next litter.
11. HOW LONG DO RACCOONS LIVE?
What’s the average raccoon lifespan?
Raccoons live two to three years on average in the wild.
12. WHAT SOUND DOES A RACCOON MAKE?
Raccoons can make a lot of noise rummaging through your garbage cans, but they can also make their own noises.
The next time you spot a group of these masked creatures, listen closely to the sounds they make.
Raccoon sounds vary from growling to crying from kits (babies). Baby raccoon sounds are distinct and resemble chattering.
Adults communicate using over 200 different sounds and over a dozen calls. Aside from communication, noises can also include scurrying and gnawing sounds.
Raccoon fight sounds can be terrifying, and often sound like screaming children.
13. WHAT DOES RACCOON POOP LOOK LIKE?
Raccoon shit is usually tube-shaped and about 2-3” in length. Most people agree that raccoon feces look just like dog feces. The only real difference is that raccoon poop will contain bits of undigested food, and maybe the same color as the food they ate.
Raccoons are picky about where they defecate, and will often defecate and urinate in the same spot. Eventually, they build up piles of feces, which are called raccoon latrines. Latrines can be found in tree stumps and bases as well as garages, attics and underneath decks.
14. CAN RACCOONS CLIMB?
Yes, raccoons are expert climbers, and that’s part of the reason why they’re so hard to catch.
Raccoons avoid open areas and beech trees, as they’re impossible to climb. But these dexterous creatures can climb most trees and homes, including those with brick walls.
15. CAN RACCOONS JUMP?
Raccoons are known for their climbing abilities, but can they jump, too? Yes, but only short distances and horizontally.
16. CAN YOU KEEP A RACCOON AS A PET?
Search the web and YouTube, and you’ll find plenty of adorable photos and videos of people keeping raccoons as pets. We’ve all seen that adorable meme of a raccoon holding a kitten. Can they really be family pets?
There’s no denying that raccoons are cute. They’re agile like cats, and their masked faces add to the appeal.
But is it really a good idea to keep a raccoon as a pet?
First, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a domesticated raccoon. Regardless of how it was raised, a raccoon is a wild animal, and wild animals can be unpredictable.
Second, in many states, it is illegal to keep raccoons as pets.
Ask yourself this question: is it really fair to capture a wild animal and keep it captive in your home for your own amusement?
It is true that some raccoons live in captivity, but these are often the ones that would be unable to survive in the wild on their own.
Raccoons are crafty creatures and well-known thieves. They can pick locks, and get into virtually anything thanks to their dexterous front paws. Their craftiness and intelligence often make them a handful.
Also, consider the fact that raccoons can carry diseases, which can put you and your family at risk. These diseases can put your other pets at risk as well.
Some people do keep raccoons as pets, and some have great success. But oftentimes, these poor creatures wind up becoming too much to handle and are euthanized because they can’t be released back into the wild.
If you do decide to keep a raccoon as a pet, make sure you are educated and experienced on the best ways to care for them.
17. ARE RACCOONS DANGEROUS?
They can be. Aside from their masks, raccoons are best known for carrying rabies. A rabid raccoon is a dangerous raccoon, and their behavior can be highly unpredictable.
Raccoons can carry other viruses as well, including pseudorabies, raccoon parvovirus, and canine distemper.
The urine and feces of raccoons can also carry disease, including:
- Giardia: An infection that causes abdominal cramps, nausea, dehydration, and diarrhea.
- Leptospirosis: A bacterial infection that many wild animals transmit through their urine. Symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, jaundice, headache, and diarrhea.
- Raccoon roundworm: A parasite that lives in a raccoon’s intestines. The worm’s eggs appear in the raccoon’s feces. Pets and humans may unknowingly ingest the eggs and become infected. Symptoms can include liver complications, muscle control loss, blindness, and fatigue.
18. WHAT EATS RACCOONS?
While cunning, agile and quick, raccoons do have natural predators, including:
Humans are the biggest threats to raccoons. Not only have we taken over their habitats, but we trap, kill and eat them as well.
All raccoon predators (including humans) know these crafty creatures are not going down without a fight. Raccoons can protect themselves very well, partly thanks to their dexterous paws, which can scratch and claw enemies.
Love them or hate them, raccoons are not leaving human habitats anytime soon. Your garbage pail gives these creatures an easy meal, and their intelligence makes them difficult to outsmart. But now that you know more about these cunning creatures, it will be much easier to find more efficient, humane ways to rid your home or yard of them.