Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Fun Fact: The English word “raccoon” is an adaptation of a native Powhatan word meaning “animal that scratches with its hands.”
Body and Skeletal Structure:
Northern raccoons (also known simply as ‘raccoons’) are about as big as small dogs. They grow to be about 23 to 38 in (58.4-96.5 cm) long, with their tails making up about 42 to 52% of that length, and around 12 in (30.5 cm) tall. They typically weigh from 12 to 35 lbs (5.4-15.9 kg). The males tend to be heavier than the females by about 10 to 30%.
Their dense fur is usually greyish-brown, and the tail has about 5 to 7 complete dark rings, alternating with broader brown or grey rings. The tip of the tail is always dark. All raccoons have dark, bandit-like face masks. They have round ears bordered by white fur. Their coloration is ideal for a nocturnal species, enabling them to vanish somewhat easily when harassed.
Fun Fact: Raccoons have highly dexterous, dark front paws and have been known to unlock locks and get into trash cans for food.
Raccoons are opportunistic and omnivorous creatures. Plant foods can vary from fruits to nuts. Some specific meals may consist of wild grapes, cherries, apples, persimmons, berries, acorns, peaches, plums, figs, watermelons, beech nuts, walnuts, to corn. (During the fall, raccoons stock up on fatty nuts and seeds for the coming winter).They also feed on animals such as crayfish, rodents, frogs, fish, bird eggs, and even insects. They have even been known to include roadkill, trash, and other available food in suburban and urban areas in their diet. Regardless of what they choose, whatever is on the menu will be sure to get a quick rinse in a nearby water source.
Fun Fact: Raccoons play an important role for our ecosystem by controlling the rodent populations that they prey upon.
Northern raccoons are commonly known to survive to be about 2 to 3 years of age, though they are able to live longer (12-16 years). The primary causes of death are humans (hunting, trapping, cars) and malnutrition.
Mating Season: February-June (Mostly in March)
Gestation Period: About 63 days
Litter Size: 1-7 kits (Average: 4 kits)
Fun Fact: As a group, a mother and her young are called a nursery.
Communication and Behavior:
The majority of vocalization produced by raccoons comes at a very young age. A chattering or whiney sound is produced by newborn raccoons, reminiscent of the way baby birds ask their mom to feed them. When their eyes open at around 3 weeks old, they become very vocal, using growls, hisses, and alarm snorts. As adults, these raccoons make their point by snarling, growling, and hissing when disturbed in their den or to scare off any threats.
Raccoons are highly intelligent, curious, adaptable, nocturnal, and generally solitary animals. These raccoons have been known to gorge themselves to store up body fat before winter arrives, when they will then spend a majority of their time asleep in their dens. However, they don’t hibernate in the traditional sense. They simply sleep while their bodies live of stored fat, losing about 50% of their body weight during that time. Although inactive inside of their den, they are constantly aware and alert, and are known to be aggressive when threatened. Despite what most might think, raccoons are very clean creatures. They are known to wash their food in streams and even dig latrines in areas they frequent regularly. They are also excellent climbers and strong swimmers. However, they may be reluctant to swim since they don’t have “waterproof” fur, thereby forcing them to take on extra weight. Additionally, raccoons don’t travel any farther than necessary, only traveling far enough to meet the demands of their appetites.
Since they are primarily solitary animals, the only real social groups raccoons form are that of the mother and her young. Occasionally a male may stay with a female for a month prior to breeding and until after the birth of their young. However, males play no role in the rearing of kits. Kits are typically 3-5 ounces at birth, lightly furred, with a light-colored mask and rings on the tail. Kits open their eyes around 3 weeks of age, start eating solid food around 7 weeks old, and by 2 months old are traveling alongside their mother. The young typically stay with their mother through the first winter and part the following spring (when the female is ready to breed again). The cubs are about 10 months old when ready to leave their mother.
Habitat and Range:
These adaptable raccoons live in a wide range of climates and habitats. They are found in forests, marshes, prairies, farmlands, and even urban and suburban areas. These creatures commonly make their home among trees, caves, the ground, crevices, barns, abandoned vehicles, and other man-made locations.
The northern raccoon is currently listed as a species of least concern, their population and distribution still expanding. Their ability to adapt to human-dominated landscapes has contributed to this. However, some encounters (due to urbanization and development) can be problematic, especially with complaints of their denning locations and their being a primary carrier for rabies. Nonetheless, raccoon-to-human transmission of rabies is exceedingly rare.