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Raccoon, Procyon lotor

The family Procyonidae is represented in North America by the raccoon and in the U.S. west also by the ringtail and coati. These animals are small or medium sized. They can all be recognized by their black and white-ringed tails. The scientific name for the raccoon is Procyon lotor. In latin, Procyon refers to the evolutionary history of the animal. Procyon means "before dog" as the raccoon is distantly related to dogs and bears. The word lotor means "washer" and refers to the raccoon's habit of "washing" food before eating it, which is probably more play than actual washing. Adult raccoons can reach a length of nearly 3 feet, with a stout body, thick tail, pointed snout, and long coarse hair. It is interesting to note the readiness with which raccoons can adapt to the changed conditions forced upon them by urban developement and the consequent thinning of forests and swamps. The raccoon is a very adaptable animal and has managed to survive and even thrive within the boundary of large American cities.
raccoon, Procyon lotor
Raccoon, Procyon lotor
The raccoon is a creature of somewhat clumsy and deliberate movements compared to other forest creatures and requires a pretty large space for a hiding place. They generally like a hollow tree or cavern among the rocks, but a storm sewer, abandoned building, or unused chimney can be made into a home. In some parts of the country they are said to dwell in burrows which they dig in the rough, ledgy portion of a high stream bank. They appear to prefer cavities beneath rocks to hollow trees, probably finding greater safety there, but even a hay bale can be made into a house. Compared with most wild American carnivores, raccoons are regular home bodies. Of course there are exceptions, but probably the majority of them return to the same home regularly at dawn.
Given the opportunity, raccoons will make use of crow and hawk nests for sleep. At other times they flatten themselves along the thick branch of a tree, their gray fur camoflaging them against the color of the bark. They may also ascend to the tops of dense foliaged hemlocks for a nap, circling their fat bodies completely around the main stem while being supported by the numerous elastic branches around them. In this place they're mostly invisible from the ground. If a company of blue jays discover one in this position there is sure to be a tremendous racket, their shrill voices jarring the quiet of the treetops like a raccoon alarm clock.
raccoon, Procyon lotor
Raccoon, Procyon lotor
Aside from backyard dog food bowls and uncovered trash cans, corn furnishes the raccoon with its favorite natural meal. When the corn kernels are still soft and milky, they like to strip down the ears to get at the tasty yellow goodness inside. They typically won't eat the whole thing, only part of it, probably to the disgust of many a farmer. Raccoons also have been known to puncture melons and reach inside for a sweat treat.
raccoon, Procyon lotor, sticking out tongue
Raccoon sticking out tongue, Procyon lotor
Though much smaller, they are related to the bears, and they appear to possess many of the characteristic traits of the ursine family, shuffling about the woods in a very bear-like manner. Raccoons will dine on just about anything, animal or vegetable. Their natural menu includes things like nuts and berries, grapes, insects, crayfish, fish, frogs, turtles, bird eggs, even mice and rabbits. Raccoons are skilled at hunting and fishing and will wait at the water's edge, ready to scoop out any fish or crawdad that comes within reach. Being night wanderers, they'll surprise sleeping birds, both on the ground and in the trees. It's a common custom for raccoons in dense woods to travel for long distances via treetops, without coming down, robbing the nests of birds and squirrels on the way. Try to imagine the terror of a family of squirrels sleeping snuggled up together, when a great shaggy monster comes scrambling along the branches at midnight and proceeds to tear their roof to pieces. The act scatters them, blind as humans in the darkness, and wholly at a disadvantage against this night vision capable enemy. Like a bear, the raccoon's thick fur enables it to disassemble bee hives or wasp nests in comparative safety.
Raccoons come into conflict with humans due to their opportunistic eating habits, especially in urban and suburban areas. Trash, dog and cat food, even backyard gardens, may all provide an easy meal. The best way to avoid these scenarios is to make the food unavailable, which may include tying a metal trash can with a tight fitting lid to a fence or pole.
raccoon, Procyon lotor
Raccoon, Procyon lotor
The track of the raccoon is easily recognized in mud or snow. Their footprints have five toes, are long with a narrow and distinct heel. The prints are commonly formed in pairs a few inches apart. The pairs are separated by a distance of less than three feet. This track would be placed at a walking pace, but as the raccoon varies its pace, the order of the footprints change as well. The track of a skunk appears somewhat similar with a heel mark, but is smaller and the toes are not separated as in the raccoon's tracks. The groundhog's track is the only one that could really be mistaken for a raccoon. To distinguish the two, one only has to remember that the groundhog's footprints are shorter, and show a pretty well defined thumb, like that of a squirrel.
Raccoon babies are generally born in litters of three to six in April or May. At first they are as blind and helpless as young kittens. The young are weaned after two months and can potentially remain under the care of their mother through the first winter. When separated from their parents, baby raccoon crying is said to resemble that of a human infant under similar circumstances. The adults also have a cry or call which is often heard on moonlit nights. It seems to be of a somewhat variable nature, at times similar to other wild sounds of the countryside, rendering it hard to identify as raccoon.
raccoon mom protecting babies, protecting, Procyon lotor
Raccoon mom protecting babies
With the arrival of cold weather, young and old curl themselves up together. Occasionally several raccoon families will share the same hollow tree. Raccoons don't truly hibernate like bears or woodchucks. In winter they'll take naps of a few days to weeks, depending on the severity of conditions. Southern raccoons are more active during the winter months than their northern cousins. By spring, they're all out again, searching for newly awakened snakes and beetles, or for urban inhabitants dog and cat food left out, or trash. It's the time of year they're most desperate for food, though their omnivorous nature gives them an advantage over the vegetarian groundhog.
Raccoons are very curious and fun to observe. They can coexist with humans given the opportunity. If a raccoon mom decides to have a family on your property, try to give them the space they need. When the time is right and the babies are old enough, they'll move on.

In honor of Grouchini, a good momma raccoon.

Andy Williams /
raccoon with toy, Procyon lotor
Raccoon with toy
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Raccoon, Procyon lotor, stock photos

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