The raccoon is native to North and South America and even Southern Canada to the northern reaches of Argentina. They have populations in Europe and Germany where they escaped from fur farms and were set loose and hunted for sport during the war! Raccoon comes from the Algonquin word “Arakun” which means one who scratches with his hands. They walk heel to toe just like bears and humans. They are the most recognized animal in the States. Their distinctive black masks and ringed tails make them easy to indentify. There are 6 species and they are usually around 2-1/2 feet long and weigh 12-16 pounds. The largest raccoon weighed in at 60 pounds.
Raccoons can live for 15 years. Humans hunt raccoons for fur, meat and run over and kill them as pests. They prefer wooded areas close to water but can live close to humans too. They will nest in trees or empty underground dens. They are also known to live in cars, sewers and chimneys! They are highly intelligent and have the dexterity of apes. Their fingers can open shells, trash cans and even doors! They eat fruit, insects, berries, eggs and small rodents. They also enjoy grapes, corn, crabs and crayfish. They somehow see with their hands in a tactile way! Babies are born two months after mating. Females are extremely aggressive and ferocious if their young are threatened.
Raccoons don’t hibernate but they will feed heavily in the fall and store fat so they can stay in their burrows through the worst of winter. Raccoons are generally night animals and you will find them wandering during the day do not go near it! Raccoons carry rabies and distemper and can transfer these diseases to humans. The raccoon’s scientific name is Procyon lotor which means, “washer dog”. It is related to the bear family! Populations of raccoons in urban areas can be 20 times higher than for raccoons in rural areas. Raccoons can purr, whistle, growl, hiss, scream and even whine! Raccoons have actually been kept as pets!
However, beware because as they mature they get more and more destructive and aggressive! Their hands are nimble enough to untie a shoelace, unlatch a cage and deftly retrieve coins like dimes from your shirt pocket or pants! They are also excellent swimmers and climbers. They have a highly developed sense of touch in their nose and forepaws.