- main prey
- fish, nuts, berries, corn
- interesting fact
- The raccoon, wearing a black mask and a ringed tail, is one of the most common mammals in North America
- woodland near water
- Lynx, Fox, Wolf, Cougar
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The raccoon, with its black mask and ringed tail, is one of the most common mammals in North America.
The raccoon is both vilified as a nuisance and loved for its charming behavior, but it's a smart, intelligent animal that tackles trouble with astonishing gusto and agility. It is a true survivor of the animal kingdom, thriving amidst human activity at a time when many other species have declined.
Learn about the smartest animals on Earth here.
Incredible Raccoon Facts!
- The raccoon's name is adapted from a local Powhatan term meaning "animal that scratches with its hands". The Powhatan is native to Virginia.
- As long as humans have settled in the Americas, people have interacted with these animals. Raccoons are considered mythical objects. They were also a food source for Native Americans and European settlers. Since their fur is made into hats and coats, an entire industry has sprung up around capturing it.
- The paws of raccoons are extremely sensitive, with four to five times as many sensory cells in the paws as in the rest of the body. About three-quarters of the sensory part of the brain is dedicated to touch.
Scientific name and evolution
The scientific name of the raccoon is Procyon lotor . Procyon is a Greek term that roughly means "before the dog" or "like the dog" (it also happens to be the name of a very bright star in the constellation Canis Minor). The species' scientific name roughly translates from Latin to washing machine, and refers to the raccoon's unusual behavior of submerging food in water.
Raccoons are distantly related to bears (ursids), and the animal's most direct ancestor probably originated in Europe about 25 million years ago. The ancestors of these raccoons are thought to have crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into the Americas and settled in tropical areas around Central or South America. Once modern raccoons evolved, they spread north into temperate climates.
For most people in North America, the word raccoon only brings to mind a single species, the common raccoon or northern raccoon, but there are two other species in the genus: the South American raccoon and the Cozumel raccoon . While similar in appearance, they do exhibit some minor differences. The Cozumel raccoon (also known as the pygmy raccoon due to its smaller size) has a black throatband and a blond tail. For ease of identification, it is enough to know that the common raccoon is the only species endemic to North America. There are more than 20 recognized subspecies of raccoon – we list and describe them at the end of this article .
These animals are some of the most recognizable in North America. It has a pointed nose, a broad skull, round ears, sharp teeth, a large hump (due to the hind legs being larger than the front legs), and a bushy tail with 4 to 10 black rings. The most distinctive feature is the mask-like black markings around the eyes (although not every raccoon has them). The purpose of this mask is not fully understood. It may help raccoons recognize each other. Or it might enhance a raccoon's night vision. Or it might just evolve by random chance.
Most of the animal's fur consists of a dense gray undercoat to protect it from the cold. Almost all raccoons have the same general coloration, but all-white or mostly-white albino varieties do exist in nature. Albino raccoons have only a 1 in 10,000 chance of being born, and they have even less chance of surviving long-term in the wild because their white color makes them stand out from predators. The elusive albino raccoon is so rare that every new report gets a lot of attention. In 2019, a Windsor photographer captured two people with albinism in the same family. It's estimated to be a 1 in 750,000 chance encounter.
A raccoon is an animal that averages between 2 and 3 feet in length from tail to skull and weighs between 15 and 35 pounds, about the size of a small dog. Boars are slightly larger than sows by around 10% to 30%. But regardless of gender, their weight fluctuated wildly throughout the year. They get fatter in winter and thinner in summer.
With its excellent night vision and keen eyes, the raccoon is a nocturnal predator that comes out at night to feed. The rest of the day, it sleeps in its resident rock crevices, hollow trees, and burrows, rarely leaving the immediate area unless food is unavailable. Unlike many other mammals, raccoons are still very active during the winter, when they live on body fat and sometimes lose half their body weight before spring. Apparently, the northernmost population has to carry the most weight to survive the harsh winter.
One of the underrated aspects of this animal is its amazing agility. On the ground, it can run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour to avoid slower predators. They are also excellent swimmers (although lacking waterproof fur and limited time in the water). And with dexterous hands, they can climb trees and jump from 40 feet to the ground without being injured. This appears to provide a means of escape when the raccoon is under significant threat. In 2018, a particularly ambitious raccoon climbed the UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minnesota, showing off the raccoon's amazing abilities.
There is a popular misconception that raccoons are solitary animals. But upon closer inspection, they do seem to have a limited social life that revolves around gender-specific groups. When living space becomes tight, multiple animals share a common area and gather regularly to feed and rest. They're not very vocal, except in the bond between mother and cub, but it does have a series of piercing squeals, hisses, snarls, and snarls to warn other animals.
As mentioned earlier, the raccoon is an animal with an excellent sense of touch. Its deft claws are capable of manipulating objects and opening shells or seeds. The raccoon also excels on tests of intelligence and memory; it has the same ability to solve complex problems as many other intelligent species.
The act for which the animal is named "washing" is not actually washing at all. Instead, they appear to be dipping their hands into the water in search of food. Once they spot something, raccoons rub their highly sensitive claws against the food and remove any unwanted debris. Because they feed so frequently near river banks and shorelines, it can give the false impression that the raccoons are cleaning their food in the water.
Raccoons are endemic to a wide range of temperate and tropical habitats between southern Canada and northern South America, although they have since been introduced to new habitats such as Japan and Europe. These extremely adaptable creatures can thrive in woodlands, grasslands, suburbs, and even urban areas; pretty much anywhere there is enough water and some trees or other large structures for protection.
A raccoon's diet can best be described as opportunistic, varying from one location to another based on the availability of food.
What do raccoons eat?
Raccoons prefer a plant-based diet that includes seeds, berries, nuts, and tubers. It will replenish with fish, insects, eggs, crustaceans, and other small birds and mammals it finds in the water, grabs from nests, or finds in small holes and crevices. The raccoon can be a bit of a pest, as it also attacks gardens, trash cans, pet food, and any other unprotected food items. Raccoons handle food with their hands and chew with their sharp teeth. For a full breakdown of their diet, check out our "What do raccoons eat?" page and read!
What do raccoons eat?
Some of the most common predators include wolves, coyotes, snakes, owls and eagles. It is also hunted by humans, but not in sufficient numbers to impair population growth.
Reproduction, Babies and Longevity
Raccoons breed once a year from February to June, peaking around March. Males sometimes expand their natural territories in search of receptive females during their brief conception periods. Strong males usually give preference to mates, but even weaker males often have the opportunity to have offspring.
After a gestation period of about two months, females give birth to three to seven pups at a time. She takes full responsibility for protecting and feeding her blind and helpless child, while the father has no role at all in the child's upbringing. Everything depends on the mother, and the cubs finally open their eyes after a few weeks of age. At about 20 weeks, raccoon babies can begin to forage with their mothers and learn the basics of survival. Play also appears to be an integral part of infant learning and development. Raccoons are not ready to live independently of their mothers until the following spring.
The life expectancy of a raccoon in the wild is very short, only two or three years, as it often falls prey to predators, disease, or fast-moving vehicles early in life. If they manage to survive puberty, life expectancy increases to five years. Raccoons can live up to 20 years in captivity when completely free from threats.
According to the IUCN Red List, the common raccoon is the species of least concern (although the closely related Cozumel raccoon is critically endangered). The exact population numbers are unknown, but likely very high. In humid lowland regions, for example, raccoon populations are estimated to have a population density of about 50 individuals per square kilometer (nearly three times that per square mile). In forest or agricultural areas, there are about 20 per square kilometer. On a larger territory, there are millions of people. Given the ubiquity of raccoons, no specific conservation measures are required to protect the species, but numbers are sometimes carefully managed to prevent overpopulation.
raccoons and humans
Raccoons have adapted to city life in the same way that ducks have been known to adapt to water. So why not? Steal loads of tasty treats from bowls of unsuspecting or petrified pets, fruit trees, and even garden tables. When that fails, just pry open a litter box and sift through the contents — don't mind the resulting mess when you're done.
But what do humans think of these wild scavenging hairballs that come close to them? Some people have no objection to feeding nearby wildlife a tempting tuna sandwich or a slice of pumpkin pie. Others think they can be a health risk and a nuisance. And for good reason: Raccoons carry a variety of diseases, including distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, pseudorabies, rabies, and raccoon parvovirus enteritis.
What's more, they don't hesitate to attack domestic pets.
How to keep them from digging through your trash or biting your dog? Experts recommend flashing lights and loud noises. The strong smell is also a fantastic deterrent, and a cup or dish of apple cider vinegar in the right place should be very effective.
in the zoo
Although they are common in the wild, these animals are still popular exhibits at the San Diego Zoo, Seneca Park Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Lehigh Valley Zoo in Pennsylvania, and Cosley Zoo near Chicago.
- The eastern raccoon (Pl lotor) is a small, dark-skinned creature with long, soft fur that lives in the northeastern United States and Canada.
- The Key Vaca raccoon (Pl auspicatus) is very small and light-colored and can be found on Florida's Key Vaca Reef.
- The Florida raccoon (Pl elucus) is a medium-sized, dark-coloured raccoon with a distinctive rusty reddish-brown neck spot found in Florida and southern Georgia.
- The Snake Valley raccoon (Pl excelsus) is a large, pale raccoon found in the Snake River Valley in southeastern Washington, eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, Nevada, and northeastern California.
- Texas raccoons (Pl fuscipes) are large, dark gray and found in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Mexico.
- The Barbados raccoon (Pl gloveralleni) is a small dark-furred subspecies with a light skull that lives in Baja California Sur.
- The Mexican highland raccoon (Pl hernandezii) is a large, dark gray species with a flat skull and heavy teeth that lives in southern Mexico.
- The Upper Mississippi Valley Raccoon (Plhirtus) is a large, dark-haired, often ochre-yellow coat.
- The torch reef raccoon ( Plincautus), a small, very pale coat (the smallest of the Florida raccoons), is found only in the Big Pine Key group near the end of the Florida Keys chain.
- Matecumbe Key raccoon (Plinesperatus), small, gray with a flattened skull, can only be found in Florida's Key Largo herd.
- The Tres Marias raccoon (Pl insulinis) is a large raccoon with a huge skull and short, stubby fur that can only be found in the Tres Marias Islands off the west coast of Mexico.
- The Ten Thousand Islands raccoon (Pl marinus) is a small, heavy-toothed species that inhabits the archipelago of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands.
- The Bahamian raccoon (Pl maynardi), a small, slightly darker species with a lighter skull and dentition structure, is found only on New Providence Island in the Bahamas.
- The Mississippi delta raccoon (Pl megalodous) is a medium-sized, large-skulled raccoon with a yellowish coat tinged with black on top and lives along the coast of southern Louisiana.
- The Guadeloupe raccoon (Pl minor) is a small subspecies with a dark gray coat and ochre-tinged neck and shoulders found only in Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles.
- The Pacific Northwest raccoon (Pl pacificus) has dark fur and a relatively broad, flattened skull. Its habitat includes southwestern British Columbia, Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California.
- The Colorado desert raccoon (Pl pallidus) , one of the palest subspecies, is larger and found in the Colorado and Gila valleys and from the northern delta to northeastern Utah and east to western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico adjacent areas of the Ministry.
- The California raccoon (Plpsora) is a large, moderately colored, broad, flattened skull found in the westernmost parts of California and Nevada.
- The isthmus raccoon (Pl pumilus) , with its short, broad, flattened skull, could have built the Panama Canal Zone.
- Vancouver Island raccoon (Pl vancouverenis) , a dark-furred, small subspecies known only on Vancouver Island.
- The short-faced raccoon (Pl simus) , a Pleistocene subspecies with deep jaws and strong dentition, lived in California but is extinct.
- red panda
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about the author
After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son's music.
Raccoon FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Raccoons and Possums
Raccoons share their habitat with possums, also known as Virginia opossums. These creatures are often mistaken for each other due to their similar size. In terms of body size, opossums look more like rodents, while raccoons have distinctive "mask" colors on their faces. Furthermore, opossums are marsupials and their young grow up in pouches, while raccoons give birth to live young.
Are raccoons herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Raccoons are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.
To which kingdom do raccoons belong?
Raccoons belong to the animal kingdom.
Which category do raccoons belong to?
Raccoons belong to the class Mammalia.
What phylum do raccoons belong to?
Raccoons belong to the phylum Chordate.
What family do raccoons belong to?
Raccoons belong to the family Procyonidae.
What order do raccoons belong to?
Raccoons belong to the order Carnivora.
What type of mulch do raccoons have?
Raccoons are covered with fur.
What genus do raccoons belong to?
Raccoons belong to the genus Anchovy.
What type of habitat do raccoons live in?
Raccoons live in woodland areas near water.
What is the main prey of raccoons?
Raccoons eat fish, nuts, berries, and corn.
What type of animal is a raccoon?
The raccoon is a placental mammal and carnivore. Its living relatives include the lesser-known olingos, ringtails, and raccoons.
What does raccoon poop look like?
Raccoon poop is usually black, tube-shaped, and contains undigested plant matter. In the wild, raccoons like to defecate near trees, stumps, and large rocks. But when they come into contact with people, they may defecate in woodpiles, attics, garages, decks, and haylofts. You should handle it with care, as raccoons can carry pathogens and diseases in their droppings.
What do raccoon tracks look like?
Raccoon footprints are easily identified by the very long hind feet (almost pointing toward the heel) and the shorter front feet. Each foot has five forward-pointing toes that are slightly separated from each other, which makes the footprints look very human-like compared to many other mammals. Raccoons also move in a somewhat diagonal fashion.
How do you get rid of raccoons?
If the raccoon proves to be a nuisance, then you should call your local wildlife or animal services so they can capture and move the raccoon humanely.
Are raccoons rodents?
No, raccoons are not rodents at all. In the order Carnivora, they are actually more closely related to bears, wolves and cats. Rodents are an entirely separate order.
Are raccoons dangerous?
Raccoons pose little danger to humans. Although they are sometimes carriers of rabies, actual transmission between humans and raccoons is relatively rare. Still, it's best to leave wild raccoons alone to avoid any possibility of transmission.
Who are the raccoon's natural enemies?
Predators of raccoons include bobcats, foxes, wolves, and mountain lions.
How many children does a raccoon have?
The average number of babies a raccoon has is 5.
What are some interesting facts about raccoons?
Raccoons have been known to clean their food before eating it!
What is the scientific name of the raccoon?
The scientific name of the raccoon is Procyon lotor.
What is the lifespan of a raccoon?
Raccoons can live 12 to 16 years.
How fast are raccoons?
Raccoons can travel as fast as 15 miles per hour.
What is the difference between a raccoon and a raccoon?
The main differences between raccoon dogs and raccoons are their family, shape, and size. Raccoons are part of the canid family, and raccoons are members of the raccoon family.
Who would win a fight between a cat and a raccoon?
The raccoon will win the fight with the cat. Raccoons are larger than most cats, and it is nearly impossible for a smaller animal to attack and kill a raccoon instantly. That way the fight turns into a fight to the death, and in this case, the raccoon wins.
Who would win a fight between a fox and a raccoon?
The fox will win the fight with the raccoon. Foxes are bigger, faster, and stronger than most raccoons they encounter. Additionally, foxes are ambush predators, and their teeth are large enough to bite their enemies, crushing bones and inflicting fatal injuries.
Who would win a fight between a raccoon and a skunk?
A skunk vs. raccoon matchup is close, with great chances for both sides. They both use similar hunting techniques, including quick bites and the use of extremely sharp claws when necessary, so there are no gaps in the armor in that department. Skunks have better teeth for fighting, and their best defense is their spray. However, raccoons are slightly faster, have better eyesight, are exceptionally mobile, and have more weight behind them — all of which can tip the fight in their favor. Still, the outcome of the battle will likely depend on whether the raccoon can tolerate the skunk's pungent smell long enough to subdue it.
What's the difference between a raccoon and a red panda?
Red pandas differ from raccoons in their preferred habitat and diet. Raccoons are also gray and white, while red pandas are rust red and white in appearance.
Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- Animal Diversity website, available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Procyon_lotor/
- National Geographic, available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/06/raccoon-climbing-building-intelligence-facts-animals/
- PBS, available here: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/raccoon-nation-raccoon-fact-sheet/7553/