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Raccoon

Procyon lotor

Raccoons are excellent climbers that will eat nearly any food available to them. (Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr)
Raccoons are excellent climbers that will eat nearly any food available to them. (Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr)

The raccoon is a grayish mammal with a distinctive long, ringed tail and black “mask” over its eyes. It lives in nearly every part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from cities and suburbs to swamps and marshes.

Appearance:

Raccoons are mostly gray with some reddish or black tints and gray underparts. They have a distinctive black mask around their eyes. Their long tail has rings of black and yellowish-white. They have small, erect ears and a pointed muzzle. Their black feet have five toes on each paw. Raccoons grow to about 28 inches in length and can weigh as much as 35 pounds.

Habitat:

The raccoon is found along the edges of streams, rivers, swamps and marshes. It is common in developed areas such as cities and suburbs. Mostly nocturnal, it stays in its den during the day.

Range:

Found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. Raccoons become dormant in winter but do not hibernate.

Feeding:

Raccoons eat nearly any available food, including fruits, nuts, corn, fish, frogs, insects, bird eggs, rodents and dead animals. In cities and suburbs, raccoons will eat food they find on the ground and sometimes break into trash cans. Raccoons are able to use their hands to open garbage cans and other containers in search of food.

Predators:

Hawks, owls and humans are major predators. Snakes may eat young raccoons. A raccoon will stay in its den during the day to avoid being preyed upon, and can be aggressive toward potential predators.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Breeding occurs from late autumn into early spring. The raccoon creates a den in a dry area, often in hollow trees, logs or crevices. Gestation lasts about two months. In late winter or early spring, the female gives birth to a litter of 3 to 6 young (called cubs). At birth, cubs are blind, covered in dark fur and have no rings on their tails. Between 18 to 24 days old, cubs begin to open their eyes. After 4 to 6 weeks, cubs begin walking, and after 9 to 10 weeks, they begin to explore outside of their den. Females nurse their cubs for about 70 days. After 4 to 5 months, cubs are able to forage on their own. Females continue to care for their cubs for nearly one year. Cubs do not reach adult size until their second year. Females can breed before they are one year old. Raccoons can live 10 to 15 years in the wild.

Other Facts:

  • The word “raccoon” comes from the Algonquian word arakun, which means “he scratches with his hands.”
  • Although raccoons usually walk, they can also run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
  • Raccoons have excellent night vision and sharp hearing.
  • Raccoons are excellent climbers that can fall 40 feet without being harmed.
  • Raccoons are strong swimmers, but they do not swim farther than they need because their fur is not waterproof and being wet weighs them down.
  • You should never feed a raccoon. When humans feed raccoons, the animals eventually lose their instinctive fear of humans and begin to move closer to the food source being provided.

Sources and Additional Information:

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