With thick, coarse fur, a characteristic bandit-mask pattern, and bushy, ringed tails, raccoons are one of the most recognizable wild animals in the United States. They appear very friendly and playful, but they are still wild animals and should never be approached. A raccoon's adorable demeanor can become aggressive quickly, and they also occasionally carry the rabies virus.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Carnivora
Family - Procyonidae
Genus - Procyon
Species - P. lotor
Common Names - Raccoon, North American Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Northern Raccoon, 'Coon (informally), Racoon (alternate spelling)
The raccoon is a medium-sized mammal with a pointed muzzle and prominent, rounded ears. It can be between 2 and 3 feet in length and weigh between 15 and 25 pounds. The back legs of a raccoon are longer than the front legs, so it walks in a hunched-over manner. Raccoons have extremely dexterous and sensitive forepaws, allowing them to manipulate all sorts of latches and fastenings. Raccoons are also excellent climbers.
Raccoons breed in late winter or early spring when they are around 1 year of age after mating with several individuals. Typical litters are of three or four young born in early spring after a 65-day gestation period. Newborns are born blind with fur that typically displays the masked color pattern. Their eyes open in about 3 to 4 weeks. Raccoon babies stay in the den with their mothers until they are about 2 months old, at which time they begin to venture out. The babies stay with their mothers until they are about a year old.
Raccoons are nocturnal animals, and they will eat almost anything, including fruits and plants, lizards, eggs, and crayfish. In urban areas, raccoons often sift through trash to find edibles. They prefer wooded areas near running water, but there are also many large populations of raccoons in urban areas thanks to plentiful food, few predators, and hunting restrictions. They prefer to live in cavities or burrows and may be hunted by foxes and coyotes. Although biologists once thought that raccoons were solitary creatures, further study reveals that they tend to live in gender-specific groups.
Raccoons were originally limited to habitats in the tropics where they lived along riverbanks foraging for shellfish and other food sources. However, they eventually made their way northward, expanding their diets and territories. As far as historians know, Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to write about the raccoon.
The raccoon is native to North America and can be found across most of the continent, except for certain parts of the Rockies and in the arid Southwest. Raccoons are common in Canada, Mexico, and the northernmost parts of South America. During the 1900s, raccoons were exported from North America to other parts of the world. Currently, they can be found in places such as Germany, Russia, and Japan.