Raccoon, Procyon lotor
Raccoons are highly adaptable animals. They thrive in human-dominated landscapes and this may have lead to their population growth and expanding distribution, now occurring throughout much of Europe (not shown on map). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Status: Not Listed. International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern; population increasing.
The most distinguishable characteristics of the raccoon are its black mask across the eyes and bushy tail with anywhere from four to ten black rings. The front paws resemble slender human hands and make the raccoon uncommonly dexterous. They can weigh anywhere between 12 to 45 pounds and measure 2 to 3 ½ feet long (including an 8 to 16 inch tail).
Habitat and Range
Raccoons are common throughout North America from Canada to Panama. They have been introduced to parts of Asia and Europe and are now widely distributed there as well. Raccoons are extremely adaptable, being found in many kinds of habitats that provide water and trees, easily living near humans. They can live in elevations ranging from sea level to 6400 feet.
In spring and early summer their diet consists mostly of insects, worms, and other small animals available early in the year. In late summer and autumn they will eat fruits and nuts that are rich in calories for building up fat needed for winter. Raccoons feed on small aquatic prey such as crawdads and fish. Additionally, being opportunistic, raccoons will feed on human garbage or pet food left outdoors. Raccoons will catch the occasional bird or mammal.
Sexual maturity often occurs in females before they are one year-old, and in males at two years. Litter sizes range from 3 to 7 kits. Most mating occurs in March. Young are weaned after 70 days. By 20 weeks old the young regularly forage with their mother at night. The young remain with their mother through their first winter, becoming independent early the following spring. Mothers and young often den nearby even after they have reached maturity.
Raccoons are mostly solitary animals, although they will live in small groups during the winter. They are typically nocturnal, although they will venture out in the day to take advantage of available food sources. In the northern parts of their range, raccoons go into a winter rest, or “torpor,” reducing their activity drastically as long as a permanent snow cover makes searching for food impossible.
- The American Indians named the animal ‘Aroughcun’ meaning “he scratches with his hands.”
- They have a highly developed sense of touch, which allows them to identify and pull off non-food debris or rotted portions from their food. Water further enhances this sensation.
- Life span: average 5 years, up to 16 years. A captive animal was recorded living for 21 years.