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  • Raccoons use their sensitive forepaws to pull up water plants and strip them of snails to eat.

  • Even baby raccoons sport their species’ distinctive markings—a dark mask and a ringed tail.

  • A baby raccoon can forage with mom when 20 weeks old; as an adult he’ll be able to run 15 MPH.

  • Hollow trees are raccoons’ preferred dens, but they also use burrows, caves, mines, and barns.

  • Raccoons are active mainly at night and spend daytime resting in their dens or high up in trees.

  • Raccoon moms are on their own caring for their young—usually there’s a litter of three to seven.

The adaptable and resourceful raccoon flourishes in a vast range, including southern Canada, most of the United States, and part of northern South America, as well as in Asia and Europe, where the species was introduced. Though raccoons prefer moist woodlands near streams or ponds, they are able to adapt to habitats ranging from tropical areas to grasslands, and from farmlands to suburban and urban areas.

Though raccoons are generally solitary, researchers have identified 13 unique calls, 7 of which are exchanged between mothers and their young. The “chitters” made by moms and the whistles of young are individually distinct, and are used as contact calls to help them stay together—or to reunite if they become separated. Other sounds include growls, snarls, barks, squeals, and purrs.

Threats to their safety and wellbeing

Raccoons have increased in number and expanded in distribution over the past century in most places, except on small, isolated islands. Among their predators are coyotes, bobcats, wolves, fishers, large hawks, and owls, but the main causes of death for raccoons are hunting, trapping, collisions with vehicles, and malnutrition. Thus, providing safe, healthy habitat where they will not be hunted or trapped—such as at the Walker Wildlife Sanctuary in Tennessee—is a humane and helpful action to take.

How they spend their time

Raccoons are active from sunset to sunrise, with a peak in feeding at midnight. During the day, they normally rest in their dens or on a high branch, safely out of reach of at least some of their predators. When necessary, they can run up to 15 miles per hour, climb, and even swim, although their fur is not waterproof, so it becomes heavy and limits their swimming.

Raccoon dens are often in hollowed out trees and are usually within two- or three-hundred feet of water. More than one adult may use a den at the same time, particularly in winter. Raccoons do not hibernate, which requires a shift in metabolic rate and body temperature, but they do hunker down in their dens and sleep during especially cold, snowy periods.

In addition to having excellent night vision and keen hearing, raccoons have surprisingly human-like “hands” or forepaws, which are extremely sensitive. With four times as many touch receptors as their feet have, their forepaws can feel for food beneath the water or in the dark. Among the foods they eat are fruits, nuts, corn, crayfish, insects, frogs, fish, bird eggs, and rodents. The dexterity of their forepaws also enhances their climbing ability, and joints in their hind feet can rotate 180 degrees, enabling them to descend trees headfirst.

It is mother raccoons who provide all of the feeding, protection, and guidance for the young. At 20 weeks old, baby raccoons are able to follow mom on nightly foraging rounds, and for their first winter they still den with her. By early the next spring, though, they will be independent. Most will disperse 6-19 miles away, but some will choose to den nearby.

Living with Woodchucks

Living peacefully with our wild neighbors can be a real joy. Learn how to share your land with woodchucks.

 

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