Raccoon Nation
Raccoon Fact Sheet

raccoon-fs-ip

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Procyonidae
Genus: Procyon
Species: Procyon lotor

Size and Weight: The adult raccoon is a medium-sized mammal and the largest of the Procyonidae family.  It averages 24 to 38 inches in length and can weigh between 14 to 23 lbs., or more, depending upon habitat and available food. The male raccoon, or boar, is slightly larger than the female, also referred to as sow. The young are called kits.

Physical Features: The mask of black fur that covers its eyes is its most characteristic and familiar feature. One hypothesis for the dark fur is that it may help reduce glare and enhance the nocturnal animal’s night vision. The species has grayish brown fur, almost 90% of which is dense underfur to insulate the animal against the cold. Five to eight light and dark rings alternate on its tail. Because its hind legs are longer than the front legs, a raccoon often appears hunched when they walk or run. The five toes on a raccoon’s front paws are extremely dexterous, functioning essentially as five little fingers which allow it to grasp and manipulate food it finds in the wild as well as a variety of other objects, including doorknobs, jars, and latches. A raccoon’s most heightened sense is its sense of touch. It has very sensitive front paws and this sensitivity increases underwater. When able, a raccoon will examine objects in water.

Life span: In the wild, a raccoon has a life expectancy of about 2 to 3 years, but in captivity a raccoon can live up to 20 years.

Diet: The raccoon is an omnivorous and opportunistic eater, with its diet determined heavily by its environment. Common foods include fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs, and crayfish. In urban environments, the animal often sifts through garbage for food. The majority of its diet consists of invertebrates and plant foods.

Geography: The raccoon is native to North America and can be found throughout the United States, except for parts of the Rocky Mountains, and southwestern states like Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It can also be found in parts of Canada, Mexico and the northern-most regions of South America. During the 20th century, the species was introduced to other parts of the globe, and now has an extensive presence in countries like Germany, Russia, and Japan.

Habitat: Originally raccoons lived in the tropics where they could be found foraging along riverbanks. Over time they moved north up the continent, successfully adapting to new territories and expanding their diet. Traditionally, they live in tree cavities or burrows emerging at dusk to hunt frogs and crustaceans while keeping an eye out for predators such as coyotes and foxes. Barns have aided their northern migration, offering refuge from cold northern winters, and now, raccoons have been found as far north as Alaska. The species originally kept to the deciduous and mixed forests of North America, but its impressive ability to adapt has enabled the animal to move into a wide range of habitats, from mountainous terrains to large cities. The first urban sighting was in Cincinnati during the 1920s. Raccoon populations do very well in urban areas, primarily due to hunting and trapping restrictions, a general lack of predators, and an abundance of available human food. The size of a raccoon’s home range varies depending on habitat and food supply. In urban areas, its home range generally spans about one mile.

Breeding and Social Structure: The animal is nocturnal, mostly foraging and feeding at night. Though previously thought to be quite solitary, there is now evidence that the species congregates in gender-specific groups. Mating season for raccoons falls generally anytime between January and June.  Most females begin reproducing around the age of one. The female has a 65-day gestation period and gives birth to two to five kits, usually in the spring. A mother usually separates from other raccoons to raise her young alone. The male does not participate in the raising of the kits. The black mask is already visible on newly-born kits. The kits stay in the den with their mother until they are between 8-10 weeks old, and will stay with their mother until they reach 13-14 months of age.

Risks: A raccoon has few predators though the animal has been known to be attacked by cougars, bobcats, and coyotes. Disease, infection, and run-ins with cars are generally the primary risks for the species.  Some of their diseases, including roundworm, trichinosis and rabies, also place people and pets at risk.

Additional Facts:

  • The raccoon’s scientific name, Procyon lotor is neo-Latin and translates to “before-dog washer.”
  • Christopher Columbus is the first individual we know of to have written about the species.
  • The raccoon’s taxonomy has been debated over time. Carl Linnaeus placed the raccoon in the Ursus genus—first as Ursus cauda elongate (“long-tailed bear”) and then as Ursus lotor (“washer bear”). In 1780, Gottlieb Congrad Christian Storr created a separate genus for the species, Procyon, meaning doglike.
  • The English word “raccoon” is an adaptation of a native Powhatan word meaning “animal that scratches with its hands.”
  • In the winter, the raccoon does not hibernate, but can sleep in its den for weeks.
  • A raccoon can run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
  • The raccoon is a good swimmer and can stay in water for several hours.
  • The species makes a variety of vocalizations including hisses, whistles, screams, growls and snarls.
  • A series of studies in the mid-to-late-twentieth century show that a raccoon can remember solutions to tasks for up to 3 years.
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  • Estela

    Never saw a raccon until I came to live in the greatly blessed U.S.A. After of more than a half-century living here and seeing a few raccoons, this is the first time I’m learning so much about them. Thank you! Muchas Gracias!!!.
    Estela

  • Gorgon

    We live at the edge of a large urban forest, over the last 25 years we have spent a lot of time watching these exquisite animals. Unfortunately, they get a lot of blame for deeds that are not their doing. We see family groups come to the back yard and feed in groups and grumble/growl and screech/cackle at others in another group at the dishes of black oil sunflower seed that we leave out for the birds that they enjoy eating. We get as many as twelve raccoons at once and they keep to their group, although there is always one or two of one group that will try to cower and back into trying to fit in with the other group. Sometimes a large adult, mostly likely a female, but at other times a male, will sit right in the middle of one of the dishes looking like Jabba-the-Hut eating contentedly, while the others try to eat from the sides around the one sitting in the dish. Then, one will try distract the one sitting in the dish to get them out and another will take over. They definitely have a behaviorial protocol at the dishes of who eats, when, and where. When they get old enough the mother will bring the young ones to the dishes to teach them the ropes. At any sign of what they perceive as danger the little ones will shiny up a tree and peer down as the mother is close by checking on the situation. We never try to tame them or pet them as they will not let you, and they should remain wild. Some advocate never feed wild animals, but we feed birds which are tacky eaters and spill seed all over that draws the raccoons, and keeping the raccoons from eating the seed would be like keeping a termite from digesting wood.

  • Bigwoody

    Kill them , shoot them, set traps, get them out of area. attract a beast that causes so much damage to homes outbuildings,gardens, and pose a health Risk to humans and domestic pets.

  • Heaterman

    The article says nothing about the huge issue that raccoon overpopulation is doing. Since PETA and other groups made a fuss about fur the market for raccoon pelts has plummeted. Few people trap or hunt them anymore and with few predators above them in the food chain, the number of raccoons is exploding beyond what is healthy for the ecosystems in which they live. There are so many of them that they are affecting the population of other species which they prey on. An example of which ifs the woodland box turtle. Raccoons find the nest of these reptiles, dig it up and devour it. I recall a conversation with a wildlife officer at a nearby interpretive center who was doing a presentation on local flora and fauna. He had just spoken of the severe drop in several species of reptiles due to predation by raccoons and a member of the audience asked what should be done about it. The wildlife officer responded that state law allows that any raccoon which is creating a nuisance can be legally shot. The next question obviously was, “what is the definition of nuisance” and I will never forget his response. The officer replied that in his humble estimation a raccoon was considered a nuisance if it was breathing.
    They are cute, they are fun to observe, they serve a niche in the ecosystems they inhabit but overpopulation has allowed them to become destroyers.

  • Jim

    I had a racoon for a pet when I was a teenager. I got him when he was a baby. He loved to take baths and play with ice cubes. He couldn’t understand where the ice went. (when it melted). I had to take him to the vet and get him dog and cat shots because they are vunerable to diseases from both animals. He got to where he new the sound of my voice and would climb all over me when I would take him out of his cage. I made him a huge cage with a huge “den” at one end of it. I had a tub in there and he always took his food to it and “washed” it while he was eating it. I loved him so much. He got so big and he weighed about 25 pounds. I kept him for about 10 years before he died. He was a cleaner pet than a dog or a cat. He was very protective of me and I of him.

  • Penny

    Agree with Heaterman. Jim, my brother’s friend Mike also had a pet racoon. I am living in the a rural city and although cute to look at they have cost me too much money. You have to pay a certified wildlife expert to trap and remove the racoon/racoons. If you trap them yourself, it has to be a humane cage and you have to let them out on your own property. I have repeat offenders who have knocked out attic windows and torn off my roof more than once. The roundworms can blind children for life if the feces gets into their eyes. There definitely needs to be some regulation of wildlife especially in the more populated areas. We are over run with deer too. It becomes a huge legal issue for colleges or anyone to thin the herd so to speak. Ridiculous. The animal right activists prefer the animals die from starvation and sickness than a bullet. The meat could also be donated to food banks or homeless shelters. The activists could help with its procurement and preparation. Everyone wins.

  • mary sue ewing

    Cute as babies, but what a menace in all other ways.

  • Tina

    The problem starts with our behavior, people kill off large predators like the wolf and couger and then leave lots of trash and other easy food sources around.

    “If you feed them they will come”

    Population density of raccoons in highest in urbain areas because PEOPLE leave lots of food out. Trash cans, pet food, some people even intentionally feed them!! I am tired of the two extreams either its so cute you want to feed it and make it a pet or you hate them and want shoot them….. When will you get that WE are the root of the problem not the animal. It could be deer, raccoon, skunk, or squirrel WE change the landscape, WE leave easy food around, then WE want some quick fix to correct years of the side effects of OUR overppopulation. No amount of hunting, trapping or other such methods work for long term control (many have tried, all have failed). WE have to be accountable for OUR actions. This means changing our behaivor as to not encourage other animals to forage on our left overs. How many times have I seen people feeding squirrels? leaving out cat food? letting little bit size pets run around for hours unattended by their “carring” owner? The only viable long term population control is to limit food supply/trash, and allow tolerance for native preditors, nature will even out the rest if we give it enough time. Decresed food suppy will lead to smaller litters, and larger home ranges to look for food thus reducing the population density to a more tolerable state. The more we try to “fix” nature the greater a mess we make.

    P.S. Round worm must be ingested to cause any potential harm, you don’t get something in your eye and suddenly have a blind child. It is called a larva migran and occurs after the ingested eggs hatch, the larva does not know where to go in a non-raccoon so it wonders around the hosts body. It can cause minior to severe sickness as can many other types of round worm (cat and dog worms can make you just as sick) but the raccoon type last in the enviroment longer. So handwashing, and using a mask/gloves when cleaning up any unknow fecal matter will prevent infection. Children under two are more likely to get it since they put their hands in their mouth frequently thus ingesting all kinds of stuff. Avoid sand or loose dirt play areas and frequent handwashing will help keep them from many illness.

  • Alvin white

    Tina get with the program and the facts; populations are so high because we farm and coons eat corn. Trapping isnt viable because peta and people like you create stupid laws so that populations go out of control. If trapping is allowed they reduce coon populations by 90%. By the way cougars and bears kill people and create other problems. Yes, we humans create run ins with nature but we have a responcibility to control populations as well. Pull your head out of the sand Tina

  • Abebe

    It seems that some opinions seem to gravitate towards a “final solution” to the raccoon problem forgetting that the imbalance in the raccoon and other populations and their changing habits are induced by changes imposed by their shrinking natural habitat and mankind’s insatiable desire to continuously sprawl and introduce food sources as well as movement patterns that are quit un-natural for these populations. The “final solution” types always believe in extermination rather than finding a solution based on studies of animal behavior and ow we can share an ever changing planet. Violence towards animals is part of the syndrome of might is always right and the philosophy behind much violence in this world.

  • Sue

    Amen, Abebe….
    I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator that specializes in raccoons. I have over 15 years of experience, work with literally hundreds of raccoons each year and am considered an expert regarding raccoons. The episode “Raccoon Nation” and the fact sheet are very well done, extremely accurate and informative. The majority of wildlife related issues are in fact brought on by human actions and interference. I do NOT believe that we are responsible for controlling the population as nature will take care of that as well if we just get out of the way…. I get so upset when a person calls in to say that they want a raccoon gone because it is eating the fish from the pond they built in their backyard. People want “nature” and try to create it and then want to pick and choose what type of “nature” they get. I do admit that raccoons can be destructive but the majority of the time when they end up in attics, etc… it is because the home or building was in need of repair in the first place. KEEP YOUR HOME IN GOOD REPAIR. As said above, be responsible for your own actions. We have to learn to live alongside the wildlife. The human tendency now-a-days is to use and destroy anything and everything for personal gain and then turn around and blame someone or something else for the consequences.

  • vickie

    I live in Nevada and we do have raccoons. My backyard is full of them every night . We have two families that come around. One raccon has two kits, the other four.

  • Anne

    I can live alongside wildlife and nature until it encroaches on my birds. I also put traps out ot trap and release as I didnt want to kill it…not anymore. It has killed any number of my chickens and now a duck tonight that I couldnt catch to put to bed. It is now going to be a dead raccoon. It no longer gets a 2nd chance. It has ample food sources in the woods surrounding my home without taking a bird.

  • joan arico

    My neighbor bragged last night of drowning 12 to 14 raccoons adults and babies…I am sick they were not doing any harm to his property his answer they carry disease is this a norm or seldom situation. I am so sick about this killing. when I lived in Washington state we co existed peacefully whats up with this man?

  • Laura

    I love the raccoons that come to my house, but also have coyote’s, foxes and bobcats in the neighborhood. I leave about 5 miles out of major part of a city of 300,000 but I am surrounded by farm fields. But we are still in the city with a major high school 1/2 miles down the street. I started with feral cats feeding them because I felt sorry for them. Then the raccoons would come eat with them. Then noticed the raccoons were killing off the feral cats and kittens, yea, I didn’t have to trap them.
    Now I just have the raccoons whole familes come, one has been here since I moved into this house. He isn’t afraid of me will even eat out of my hand. He also weighs almost 50 lbs, his face is larger than a salad plate, they even get special plates of Christmas cookies at Christmas. They love watermelon and grapes, no so much on strawberries. Sometimes I even have to get the babies out of stuff when they come with mamma to eat but they are fun to watch. Will have them until I move, they have a trail from the woods behind my house to the side of the garage to the door they all come at different times. Some have been known to show at 4 in the afternoon to get fed first.

  • Stella Dale Jones

    Humans certainly enjoy their blood lust. They love to kill little things that can’t fight back. I say draft them and let their lust for killing serve a purpose by having a human adversary. The BEST OUTCOME IS THEY BOTH DIE AND THE WORLD IS BETTER OFF i, too, have the lust, but I recognize it. . The world will be better off when we are all gone and nature once again is free.

  • Realistic

    Of course humans are responsible but unless we all want to move out then we have to deal with it logically. Wolves and cougars were killed out due to their danger to livestock and humans. They can’t be reintroduced without causing the same problems as before. Therefore it’s the responsibility of the humans to do the beneficial work they were doing eg keeping the populations of their prey down to reasonably safe numbers. It’s so simple. I don’t understand the animal rights activist. We were and always have been the top predator anyway. Until we can evolve past needing farms and protection from other predators we can’t evolve past killing animals.

  • Bruce

    Raccoons are nothing but a menace. They have cost me hundreds of dollars of damage to livestock, garden crops, and outbuildings.

    I had them break into my henhouse and kill 13 chickens in a single night. They don’t pull one hen off the roost and eat her until she’s gone — oh, no. They’ll pull one off the roost, eat off her comb, then get another one. Imagine going out to collect eggs the next morning and finding something like that.

    Earlier this week, during a cold snap, two of the bandits broke into and took refuge in a room in the house next door that we use for an office. The damage they did to that one room before I managed to shoot them both was indescribable. Feces, urine, everywhere…paneling torn off the wall, it was a disaster area.

    Anybody who would say they are God’s creatures and we should live and let live is just plain ignorant.

  • John

    I live in the foothills of Tucson Arizona, and had stange tracks by my pool. I placed my Moultrie outdoor wildlife camera by the pool and got a couple of pictures of a racoon on the step of the pool and going over the fence. He was about three times the size of my cat.

  • Seigfried

    Bruce,
    YOU need to get with the program. It’s your coop. You put the chickens there. YOU need to build a better coop to keep the raccoons out. It is not their fault you gave them easy prey. Stop blaming wild animals for your mistakes. YOU are the human, YOU use YOUR big brain to figure out how to keep a raccoon or fox out of your chicken coop, or house, or whatnot. If they get in, it’s because you left ways to let them get in. Own your mistakes and stop being lazy and ignorant.

  • DELILAH SCHOOL

    WHAT DO RACOONS EAT?????

  • Emily

    I think if humans are going to continue to expand excessively then there is NOT going to be enough room for animals too.

    I think of growing up in California and mom was so upset because they were building a new wing at Stanford University, which was to be built on a field filled with ground squirrels. The ground squirrels were often run over by cars in the confusion of where to go or were huddled together in large clusters off to the side with nowhere to go. If we are tearing down forests and fields to build cities, then where are the animals going to go? As humans we have two main options: We can cut down on building or choose the location better or we will have to deal, whether in peace or cruelty, with animals.

    The person who said that the raccoons have “other places to hunt” is ignorant. Because his/her house is there, it has cut down a portion of their habitat and has possibly encouraged other people to build homes there, limiting their “hunting” further.

    Lets say you have a loaf a bread to split between 3 people and that’s what you’ve always had. What if 30 other people didn’t get bread suddenly and you had to fight over the single loaf? These animals have always had more food and are used to it. With their habitat destroyed, they either have to eat a lot less, fight a lot more or choose another outlet (your garbage) to get food. Most of them take from homes because they are hungry and don’t have enough, not because they suddenly “forgot” how to find food in the forest, which is our fault! We can’t possibly destroy most of their food and expect them to say “we don’t have any food left, so we might as well starve to death so people can go shopping in their new mall” NO they are going to try to survive!! We are hypocrites to penalize them for surviving, when we would do the exact same thing if our food supply was cut suddenly.

  • Dawn

    I respect all nature and all life forms, but these guys kill cats and I mean kill them on a regular basis. I live in a sort of small town and live by the Mississippi River and I don’t live far from it. We have raccoons coming around all the time and we also have many feral/ stray cats. Cats come up missing all the time, no they’re not hit by cars, raccoons are killing them. I can hear the killings when I get up at 4 a.m. in the morning and it is so brutal and so heart wrenching. I hate these animals for that. I did at one time leave food out for them just so they would not kill the cats, but that doesn’t even work. These cats are so vulnerable and mistreated already and the raccoons killing them breaks my heart. I realize how nature works, but it is still very hard to like an animal that does this and I am an animal lover. And they decapitate kittens just for those that do not know what these animals do in the wild. People are very misinformed about them and I have observed this firsthand for many years. If you have any domestic animals do not let them stay outside all night.

  • Gina

    Seems like people who live in places where winter is cold hate racoons because they nest in attics. I live in California and am delighted at night when they come to my window to visit. Guess its a regional thing that makes for the love hate relationship.

  • Anna

    Years ago a woman down the street from me actually left her front door open 24/7 and fed the wildlife with kibble, fruit, veggies and chicken.. Unfortunately, she died. That left a vacuum and the raccoons started coming through my cat door to eat. When I closed it they would scream all night from hunger. I couldn’t take it and started leaving out 6 cups of kibble a night. Over a period of time I have seen them come and go, but now one of my obnoxious, nosey neighbors is threatening to ‘turn me in’ because he says they defecate in his pool. Does he think they are just going to disappear if I don’t give them anything to eat? I would like to stop but do not know how to do it humanely. I would prefer to hear from a professional wildlife rehabilitator (Sue) because from everything I know relocating them will just cause a grisly death for them. What is the best plan of action? Is there some way to wean them? Please help with constructive (not nasty) commentary. I can go to the drunk next door for that..

  • Anthony

    I really like raccoon’s. There’s nothing more torturous than seeing them lie dead on the street. Where I live there are some wooded areas on a busy road. The sad thing is the speed limit is set for city driving since it’s near the city. Somehow people just can’t do the speed limit, and for some other reason they don’t pay attention to the road when the raccoon’s stray out on to. I absolutely hate seeing this, because it can be avoided the majority of the time.

  • Saoirse

    I love all God’s creatures, He made them, he made us to take care of them. We need to be responsible keepers of His beautiful creation.

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