Raccoons are the most common form of wildlife that you might come across if you are living in a city. Although the raccoons are native to North America, they have spread worldwide. The cute, furry animal belongs to the mammal family. They have grayish brown fur almost 90% of which is made by dense undercoat to keep them warm. They are usually two to three feet long and ranges from 4 to 23 pounds in weight. However, in Florida, the raccoons are smaller as compared to those from North America. Out of their many species, only one i.e. Procyonidae is found in Florida. All raccoons are omnivores which means that they eat both plant and meat.  In the United States, it is legally allowed to keep raccoons as pets, but it might prove to be a challenge. Here are 5 amazing facts about these little creatures that you might not know:

Young raccoons
  1. Amazing Adaptability

In recent decades, the population of raccoons has skyrocketed despite the destruction of most of their natural habitat. As their natural habitat shrinks, raccoons are relocating to towns, suburbs, and cities. This is mainly due to their astonishing adaptability. Raccoons have adapted to urban living in almost every urban complex through the United States. 

Moreover, research suggests that city raccoons are even smarter than their rural cousins due to the changing habitat of raccoons from jungles to civilized towns. In order to survive, the city raccoons have to overcome new man-made complications every other day. 

Raccoon in soffit
Raccoon in soffit

Suzanne MacDonald, who is a psychologist at York University in Toronto carried out certain experiments to test the theory that city raccoons outsmart rural raccoons. She placed food at the bottom of trash cans with lids. She observed that the urban raccoons figured out how to open the lid. On the other hand, the rural raccoons only went to the bottom of the trash can by tracing the smell of the food but failed to open the tricky lid. Many of the trash cans when initially introduced were raccoon-proof but eventually, these furry animals figured them out.  

In another experiment, MacDonald tracked the movement on city raccoons with the help of GPS collars and noted that they were clever enough to avoid major intersections.  

Urban Raccoons being the few animals able to survive the city have very few natural predators and are most likely to be killed by a car.

  1. Mask Bandits

The most distinctive feature of Raccoons is the black mask around their eyes due to which they are sometimes referred to as masked bandits. The mask-like marking gives them the ninja and mischievous look that is usually featured in cartoons. However, the mask is not just for show.  One theory suggests that these black marks reduce glare and enhance their night-time vision. The marks do so by absorbing the incoming light and thus, making it clear for the raccoons to see in the dark. The same reasoning is used in athletes wearing black patches under their eyes. 

On the other hand, according to another theory, the black marks around the eyes of raccoons helps them in recognizing each other. Different raccoons have different patterns that make the identification easy.

  1. Super Smart

Raccoons are considered to be very smart animals, smarter than cats, and almost as smart as monkeys. To test their intelligence, Walter S. Hunter performed an experiment in 1913 in the University of Chicago including raccoons, dogs, rats, and children. He designed memory tests to see who can remember when delays and distractions are introduced. The results showed that only raccoons can demonstrate the capability of remembering similar to humans. Whereas, the dogs and rats easily got distracted and failed to remember. The finding was backed up by several studies at the time. The Number Sense, a book by Stanislas Dehaene, reports that raccoons can easily distinguish between boxes containing two, three, or four grapes.      

Along with having a sharp memory, they are very good at problem-solving, so much so that it is believed that raccoons can solve any problem if they will get their reward in the form of food. This theory was proved by research conducted by an ethologist H.B. Davis in the early 1900s by the name ‘The Raccoon: A Study in Animal Intelligence’. In this study, 12 raccoons were given lock mechanisms that they had to crack in order to get to the treats. They succeed in cracking 11 to 13 locks and that too in less than 10 tries.  

We all have heard of the old tale of a crow and the pitcher in which a thirsty crow drops pebbles in the water pitcher to raise the level of water so he could drink it. This scenario, now called the Aesop’s Fable test, is used by scientists to test animal intelligence. Eight raccoons were put into a similar scenario with a water container having marshmallows in it and stones scattered around. Once demonstrated by the scientists on how to reach the treats by dropping stones in the container, two of the raccoons repeated the action successfully whereas one devised its own plan and toppled the container to get the sugary treats.  

  1. Power of their Paws

Although the raccoons in real life do not have the abilities that Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of Angels has, they have their own version of superpowers when it comes to finding food in the dark. Raccoons are nocturnal animals and thus, they come out at night to find food. Although they cannot see with their eyes at night-time, they can see things in the dark with the help of their hands. With their nimble hands, they search for berries, nuts, insects, crayfish, clams, bird eggs, and many other small animals. By touching the object, raccoons can sense what it is and whether it is eatable or not. 

Now, the question arises that how can they see with their paws? The sensory cells in the paws allow them to identify objects. They have more sensory cells in the front paws as compared to the back. Similarly, there is a significant difference in the number of sensory cells in raccoons as compared to other mammal animals. Moreover, it has been observed that raccoons wash their food before eating. This act is mainly their way of heightening their sense of touch. When they wet their paws with water, it stimulates the nerve endings which improves the touching sense. In simpler words, we can say that water is to raccoon’s hands what light is to human’s eyes. 

It is interesting to note that raccoons are even named for their hands. The word ‘raccoon’ has been derived from the word ‘aroughcun’. Aroughcun is a Powhatan word meaning ‘scratches with his hands’. Raccoons have very human’s hands like paws which is why they are often referred to as raccoon’s hands. They do not have any webbing between their digits, unlike cats and dogs. This allows them to grab onto things very strongly. They can use their paws to even untie knots, turn doorknobs, and open jars. Therefore, their paws are great for not just climbing but also very sensitive to touch. 

  1. Live Longer in Captivity

Although it is usually encouraged to let animals live freely in the case of raccoons, if they are left on their own, they hardly live for more than 5 years. Their average life span in a free and wild environment is 2 to 3 years but in captivity, they can live up to 20 years. Although, 16 years is the longest that a raccoon lived in wild but that is considered an exception because a majority of them die in the first year. A number of factors contribute to the short life span of raccoons in the wild as compared to those in captivity including weather, finding meals, diseases, predators, etc. In wild, the raccoon has to tackle life-threatening endeavors on regular basis however the pet raccoons enjoy many privileges and therefore live a longer life. 

Pet raccoons are a new trend. In the 1920s, the exotic pet was even kept in the White House. The First Lady Grace Coolidge named her pet raccoon Rebecca. However, many animal experts advise against keeping raccoons as pets. Raccoons are very high maintenance and not easy to tame. They are extremely adorable especially when little but as they grow old, they become aggressive and unpredictable. Adult raccoons have to be supervised almost all the time, otherwise, if they get frustrated or bored, they not only attack humans and other animals but will also destroy your furniture and other belongings. Moreover, the biggest danger is that sometimes they can be carriers of rabies and other diseases and can infect humans as well as other animals. This is the reason why they are at times referred to as trash pandas. After all, raccoons are wild animals and not really pets. Hence, the longer life span in captivity basically means 20 years of full-time commitment and a fact that should be well considered before adopting this fuzzy little creature.     

6. Mother Raccoons Take In Orphans

When I first became a nuisance wildlife trapper in the early 1990’s we dealt with a lot of raccoons, it still haunts me. There were so many raccoons and no where to put them. These were not just random animals, they were living in attics in the Chicago Area.

In the Spring we would be overrun with way more baby raccoons than we had mother raccoons. We would do our best to keep the mothers with the babies but it is not always possible.

In cases where we had a mother raccoon from one job and babies from another, we would give the mother raccoon the motherless babies,

Here is one of my first videos from a while ago. I know, it’s hoaky but it gives a great glimpse of raccoons in attics with babies. You can see the baby raccoons run to me when they hear me chirp, you can also hear the mother raccoon “barking”.

Raccoons As Pets

There is no question that raccoons are cute and cuddly. However, often times when you see pictures or videos of the cute and cuddly raccoons, there is more to the story.

Similar to animals like chimps, we fall in love with them when they are little and most awesome. But as with many of us, as we age we get a bit cranky. Raccoons are like people in that personalities vary. It IS possible to have a raccoon that keeps it cuddliness into adulthood but more times than not, the the fuzzy little micro-bear becomes aggressive. The sad result of this is that most of these adult raccoons are released into the wild where they have no idea how to fend for themselves and die a slow miserable death. The other common occurrence is that these “pets” are let into the wild but are still very “people friendly”. Only doing what they know, these raccoons approach strangers hoping for a bite of food only to be thought of as rabid…when then results in authorities being called and the raccoon being killed.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, raccoons are one of my favorite animals. If you underestimate a raccoon, it will make a fool of you. When dealing with raccoons, if you have any concerns, consult a professional.

If you want a raccoon as a pet, know what you are getting into. Make sure you are willing to provide for the raccoon even if it becomes aggressive. They DO NOT make good pets for apartments, small homes or small yards…do your homework.

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Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

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