written by: Diana Cooper•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 9/27/2010
Learn about the raccoon, an intelligent animal with some remarkable abilities. Find interesting facts about their behavior, habitat, diet, and more.
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The raccoon (also spelled racoon) is easily recognizable by its mask and ringed tail and is often referred to as a "masked bandit". The mask may enhance its vision at night and is also believed to reduce glare when camouflaging itself from predators. Its bushy tail, about 8-12 inches in length, is used as a fat storage (particularly during the winter time), to balance itself when climbing, and to brace itself when sitting up.
The average weight of a raccoon is 12-20 pounds. Their front paws are very sensitive and manipulative. They can identify an object before touching it (because of special hairs above their claws) and have the ability to open jars, garbage cans, doors, and even complex locks. Their back legs are short compared to their torso, making it difficult for them to run quickly or jump great distances and their hind feet can rotate (point backwards), making it easy for them to climb down a tree headfirst. Raccoons can cool their bodies by sweating and panting.
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The raccoon is native to North America and was later introduced to other countries, including Japan and the European mainland. They prefer living in heavily wooded areas near rivers, lakes, or streams but can survive in many regions, including coastal marshes, mountainous areas, and even urban areas. They are the most common wildlife species to live in towns and cities.
It is a fact that the raccoon does not construct its own den. Instead, it relies on natural processes (such as rock crevices and hollow trees) or the work of other animals. It will use several dens within its range of land.
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The raccoon feeds on plants and animals. They prefer fruit and nuts but will also eat grain, insects, worms, fish, birds, garbage, and even bark when times are tough.
Before eating, the raccoon is sometimes seen rubbing the food between its paws and even dipping it into water, as though it was washing it. Researchers don't believe they are washing it but suggest they may be examining it and removing any unwanted parts. Water is thought to increase their sense of touch.
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Behavior and Reproduction
The raccoon is usually nocturnal but can be seen active during the day. The male adult is usually unsociable with other raccoons except during the mating season. Some unrelated males will form a loose group (usually no more than four) to keep outsiders away. Related females are more sociable with one another.
Breeding occurs mostly between the months of January and March. The male raccoon will mate with more than one female and will have no part in raising the young. The female will give birth to one liter per year. The size of a liter can range from 1-8 kits (also called cubs) but the average size is 3-4.
Most baby raccoons are born in the month of April or May. After 6-9 weeks, they begin to explore the world outside of the den and start consuming solid food. By 16 weeks, they are usually weaned. Many females will remain close to their mother while the males usually move away (an instinct to prevent inbreeding).
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More Raccoon Facts
The average life expectancy of a raccoon is about 2-3 years in the wild, although there have been reported cases of some living up to 16 years. In captivity, they have been known to live past 20 years.
In most areas, the majority of raccoons die from hunters and collisions with vehicles. In North America, the most common natural cause of death is distemper.
The raccoon can carry the rabies virus and transmit it through its saliva. Main symptoms include aggressive behavior, impaired mobility, a sickly appearance, and abnormal vocalization. Some may show no signs. Often, rabid raccoons will retire to their den.
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Adult image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Procyon_lotor_(Common_raccoon).jpg
Baby image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Common_Raccoon_(Procyon_lotor)_in_Northwest_Indiana.jpg (in the Public Domain)