Origin & Name
Raccoons evolved around water sources. People observing them gave them names describing their ‘washing’ behavior.
Scientific name – Procyon lotor means “before-dog washer” in Latin
Aztecs – Mapachitli – “one who takes everything in its hands”
Chinese – Orsetto lavatore “little-bear washing”
Garman – Waschbär – “wash-bear”
Italian – Araiguma – “washing-bear”
Algonquian / Powhatan Indian – Arocoun – “he scratches with his hands”
English speaking North American colonists changed Arocoun to raccoon
Hands & Masks
Raccoons explore with touch. It’s long been thought that ‘food washing’ was for cleanliness. Dipping ‘hands’ in water is called dousing; it stimulates nerve endings in the forepaws, giving the animal an improved ability to detect changes in pressure.
Raccoons don’t have thumbs but use both forepaws to manipulate objects, like hands. Their forepaws have concentrations of mechanoreceptor cells similar to primates and humans.
Since the animal is nocturnal and thought to be colorblind, it makes sense that it interprets the world through touch.
The mask, a stripe of dark fur surrounding the eyes, maximizes night vision by blocking glare.
Raccoons are omnivores; they’ll eat anything. Scientists believe that this characteristic, as with humans, contributes to their extraordinary intelligence.
A raccoon is a relentless problem solver, passing learning along to their young. As people attempt to keep them out, raccoons adapt, becoming smarter in the process.
In 1907, H.B. Davis published a raccoon intelligence study in The American Journal of Psychology. Twelve raccoons were given a series of locks to crack. He presented the test subjects with 13 puzzles to solve. Their success rate was nearly 85%.
“The learning curves for the raccoons and Kinnaman’s monkeys… seem to show a nearly equal facility in learning to undo fasten-ings.”
“Test of the raccoon’s powers of retention show that skill in undoing simple fastenings once learned remains practically undiminished…”
Breeding & Raising Young
- Mating Season – January and June
- Females mature and can reproduce at about one year
- Two – five kits are common per litter, born in spring
- Females separate from others to raise young.
- Mothers teach kits by example
- Kits remain with mother between 13-14 months
- Raccoons in tree cavities & burroughs – keeping up to 20 den sites at one time
- Full grown = up to 23 pounds
- Adult male = boar
- Adult female = sow
- Young = kits
- Lifespan = wild – 2 – 3 years, captivity 20 years
In the wild bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, great horned owls, and red-tailed hawks pose threats.
In urban environments, infection, disease, and cars are the major causes of death
Differing Interactions with Humans
Raccoons in the wild are shy around humans, avoiding them when possible.
Urban raccoons will approach them looking for handouts.
Highly adaptable, raccoons are able to easily navigate living in urban environments. Food sources (pet and bird feeding stations and garbage day) are plentiful and they’ll den in attics and abandoned buildings. Raccoons understand traffic patterns and travel on roofs and fence tops.
In 1934 a forester released a pair of raccoons to “enrich the fauna” for hunting. In 1945, twenty-five raccoons escaped from a fur farm after an air strike. Since then, the raccoon population in Germany has grown tremendously.
Raccoons are now considered an invasive species. A zero tolerance policy is in place. Over 10,000 raccoons are trapped and killed in Germany per year.
Rascal the Raccoon anime show appeared in the 1970s. As a result, children wanted pet raccoons. At one time, over 1,500 raccoons were imported per month. When keeping them became difficult, many were released in the forest.
Today, raccoons cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to ancient, irreplaceable buildings and temples. Raccoons have spread to most regions in the country. Japan prohibits raccoon imports.
To discourage denning on or near property;
• Securely close trash containers
• Don’t leave pet food outside
• Remove bird feeders
• Eliminate water sources and ornamental fish
• Cover outdoor sandboxes when not in use
• Keep brush cleared
• Eliminate access to attics, basements, and barns
Raccoon Voiding Spots and Latrines
Wilderness raccoons prefer to poo at the base of trees, on horizontal surfaces, on large rocks or in raised tree forks. Undigested seeds are often visible.
In urban areas, they’ll go on rooftops, decks, woodpiles, and in attics, haylofts, and in garages.
A raccoon latrine is a communal defecation area used by multiple raccoons.
Feces Spread Disease
- Fungal Spores
- Parasitic raccoon roundworm- causes neurologic damage and possible death: eggs are temperature resistant and can become airborne when dry
- Leptospirosis – contact with open wounds
Above is a list of some of the infectious diseases carried by raccoon feces. They can also be spread through contact with urine, saliva, bites and scratches.
Because food sources attract a variety of animals, disease can spread. Infectious raccoons may appear healthy. When a disease moves from a raccoon to a cat, dog, or human, it can be more challenging to combat.
Prepare for cleaning by protecting your airways (mucous membranes) and skin.
• Wear disposable gloves and rubber boots (or disposable booties that cover shoes)
• Wear an N95-rated respirator (hardware store)
• Plan to burn or sterilize gear when finished
Outdoor Latrine Cleaning
• Use a shovel (or inverted bag) to collect feces and contaminated material. Bury or burn. If placing in the trash, double bag and secure to protect landfill workers
• Roundworm eggs are chemical resistant. High heat will kill them. Cover feces with boiling water or blast with a propane torch
• Use boiling water to disinfect shovel blades and deck surfaces
• Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
• Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Launder clothing with hot water and detergent
Indoor Latrine Cleaning
- Lightly mist area with soapy water in a spray bottle to avoid stirring up dust
- Collect and dispose of feces as listed above
- Use a bucket of hot, soapy water and a damp sponge to wipe down the area
- Rinse sponge frequently
- Flush contaminated water down the toilet
- Disinfect the bucket with boiling water
- Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
- Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water
- Launder clothing with hot water and detergent
Apart from post titles, I endeavor to present Deer Creek topics objectively from multiple angles, using reliable sources. While the Center for Disease Control says, “human infections are rare,” I think a cautionary note is valuable.
As more people spread into wild areas, animals with the ability to live in urban areas join us. Our structures, pets, feeding stations and trash fulfill their hierarchy of needs. As a result, species whose paths would rarely cross are ‘meeting at the grocery store,’ creating opportunities for infectious organisms.
There are valid reasons behind the statement, “don’t feed wild animals.”
Below are several worst-case scenarios illustrating those reasons.
Danger of Disease
Raccoon Feeding Results
Attic Horror Story
If you liked this post, you might also like, Bobcat – Susceptible to Rat Poison
Average Outdoorsman – Raccoon Sounds
Centers for Disease Control – Parasites – Baylisascaris infection
Centers for Disease Control – Racoon Latrines: Identification and Clean-up [PDF]
Centers for Disease Control – Healthy Swimming – Raccoons and Pools
Harper College – Animal Scat photos
Inside & Outside Latrines
LIVE Science – Facts about Racoons
Mental Floss – Rodent, or NOT a Rodent
Mental Floss – 10 Clever Facts About Raccoons
Northern Woodlands – Raccoons: It’s All In The Hands
Oxford Research Encyclopedia – Animals in Latin American History
PBS – Racoon Fact Sheet
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management – Infectious Diseases of Racoons [PDF]
Wikipedia – Raccoon
Wildlife Animal Control – How to Get Rid of Raccoons in the Attic, House, Yard