Learning to be a Raccoon
Enhanced Video Resource

This video segment from Nature: “Raccoon Nation” explores the critical role raccoon mothers play in caring for their young and teaching them important survival skills and behaviors. The segment explains that animals, such as raccoons, which spend time with their mothers during their development are generally smarter than animals that don’t. The segment concludes with a raccoon mother showing her kits how to collapse their spines to successfully squeeze through a tight opening in a barn. The mother must climb out of the barn to help her last kit successfully complete the task.

Discussion Questions:

Before watching the video:

  • Raccoon kits stay with their mothers for up to a year, during which time they are taught different survival skills. How do you think a raccoon mother could teach things to her young?

After watching the video:

  • Describe how the raccoon mother taught her young to enter the barn. Explain what she did in order to successfully get the last kit inside the barn.
  • Discuss the role that raccoon mothers play during the first year of their kits’ lives.

Background Essay:

Scientists have long reflected on the question of what knowledge and behavior is determined by nature (genes and inheritance) and what is acquired by nurture (upbringing and environment). Some believe animal behaviors are primarily determined by evolution, while others believe that external factors play a major role in modifying animal behaviors.  Although the debate continues about whether nature or nurture plays a more important role in determining animals’ behaviors, most scientists agree that a combination of inherited and environmental factors contribute to species’ behaviors. Scientists believe that mothers can play a critical role in helping their offspring to develop and have found that young who spend time with their mothers through their development are generally smarter than those that don’t.

For more information, go to:

National Science Education Standards

Grades 5-8:

Content Standard C: Life Science
Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Reproduction and Heredity
    • The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits. Some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment.
  • Regulation and Behavior
    • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus. A behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems, and whole organisms. Behavioral response is a set of actions determined in part by heredity and in part from experience.
    • An organism’s behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species’ evolutionary history.

Grades 9-12:

Content Standard C: Life Science
Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • The Behavior of Organisms
    • Organisms have behavioral responses to internal changes and to external stimuli. Responses to external stimuli can result from interactions with the organism’s own species and others, as well as environmental changes; these responses either can be innate or learned. The broad patterns of behavior exhibited by animals have evolved to ensure reproductive success. Animals often live in unpredictable environments, and so their behavior must be flexible enough to deal with uncertainty and change. Plants also respond to stimuli.
    • Like other aspects of an organism’s biology, behaviors have evolved through natural selection. Behaviors often have an adaptive logic when viewed in terms of evolutionary principles.

Inside This Lesson

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.