raccoon belongs to the genus Procyon. Also awarded as ring tail. The most common and known is the American mapache (Procyon lotor) present in northern Canada, the United States and South America.

We can clearly see the black "mask" of the raccoon
We can clearly see the black "mask" of the raccoon

It is easily identifiable by its black "mask" on the eyes, and by its tail surrounded by black bands, which can vary between 5 - 10 bands.

Species

There are 3 main species of raccoons, which, although they vary in size, keep their appearances almost the same.

  • Boreal raccoon (Procyon lotor) - North and Central America.
  • South american raccoon (P. cancrivorus) - South America.
  • Mapache pigmeo (P. pygmaeus) - Isla Cozumel (Mexico).

Currently various species of raccoons, previously considered separate species, are now classified as the same species or subspecies of the boreal raccoon. These subspecies are: barbados raccoon (P. gloveralleni), The nassau raccoon (P. maynardi), The Guadalupe raccoon (P. minor), And the Tres Marías raccoon (P. insularis)

Features

The raccoon is a medium-sized, robust mammal with short legs, a pointed snout and small, erect ears. The life expectancy of wild raccoons ranges from 12 - 16 years, but few survive beyond 5 years. In captivity it can live up to 20 years.

On average, they measure between 70 - 90 cm in length from nose to tip of tail. It can weigh 10 kg, although males can weigh more than 20 kg. Those who live in the northern regions are larger than those who live in the south.

The most characteristic aspect is the black mask that it has around its eyes. It has a thick coat of fur to keep it warm in winter. The hair of the North American raccoon is hairy and rough, and its color is iron-gray to blackish with brown undertones. Southern raccoons are typically more silver, and northern "raccoons" tend to be blonde or brown.

They have 40 teeth in all, including four long, tapered canine teeth at the front of the mouth. The canines are sharp in the front of the mouth. They use their molars and premolars to grind and chew their food until they are able to swallow it.

The front legs are extremely sensitive and dexterous, allowing you to manipulate doorknobs, open jars, or untie knots. The sense of touch is the most important and its agile legs have a thorny coating to protect them when they are not being used.

To climb trees easily they have four legs with five fingers on the hind legs. The lower part of the legs is flat and barefoot.

Behavior

The raccoon tends to be nocturnal, but it is also not uncommon to see them during the day.

Most of the time they are near the water, and they are also competent swimmers. They climb easily and generally hide on riverbanks, in hollow trees or logs, or in abandoned beaver shelters.

Raccoon hiding in the trees
Raccoon hiding in the trees

When looking for food, they do it near water. It uses its front legs to grab food.

There is a myth that raccoons "wash" the food they eat before eating it, if there is water nearby. This idea is totally wrong and stems from their habit of reaching for food in or near water and then handling it while eating.

When winter comes and food is scarce, the raccoon copes with the cold by falling asleep. This period can last from a few days, in response to the occasional cold spells in the south, to four to six months in the northern latitudes. Northern raccoons are able to do this by accumulating large amounts of body fat during late summer and fall. Most will double their body weight in the spring to be able to sleep through the winter.

Habitat

The raccoon inhabited densely wooded areas, grasslands, and large forests, but has now adapted to living in mountainous and humid habitats.

They have also approached human settlements, where they can easily get food, but some people consider them a pest.

When they feel threatened, they tend to climb vertical structures, so they avoid open terrain and areas with high concentrations of beech trees, since the bark is too smooth to climb.

Raccoon dwelling in the snow
Raccoon dwelling in the snow

Distribution

The raccoon is found in North America from Canada to Panama, where the subspecies Procyon lotor pumilus coexists with the crab raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus).

The population of Hispaniola was exterminated as early as 1513 by Spanish settlers who hunted them for their meat. They were also exterminated in Cuba and Jamaica, where the last sightings were reported in 1687. When they were still considered separate species, the Bahamas, Guadeloupe and Tres Marías raccoons were classified as threatened by the IUCN in 1996.

It was deliberately introduced in the middle of the twentieth century, it is present in several European and Asian countries. Germany is home to the largest population of raccoons outside of North America. There is another stable population in northern France, introduced by members of the US Air Force near the Laon de Laon-Couvron Air Base in 1966. They have also been in Madrid since the 2013s. In XNUMX, "the capture and death of any specimen" was authorized due to a plague, as it does not have predators as it is an invasive species. Currently they continue to spread the same problems. It is also present in Italy, with a reproductive population in Lombardy.

Between 1936 and 1958 some 1.240 animals were released in nine regions of the former Soviet Union in order to establish a population to hunt their skins. Two of these introductions were successful: one in southern Belarus between 1954 and 1958, and another in Azerbaijan between 1941 and 1957. With a seasonal harvest of between 1.000 and 1.500 animals, in 1974 the estimated size of the population distributed in the region of the Caucasus it was about 20.000 animals and the density was four animals per square kilometer (10 animals per square mile).

In Japan, about 1.500 imported specimens were introduced as pets after the success of the Rascal the Raccoon (1977) anime. In 2004 the population grew throughout Japan as a result of abandoned or escaped animals reaching 42 out of 47 prefectures, covering the total of prefectures in 2008. It is estimated that they cause thirty million yen of agricultural damage in Hokkaido alone.

Thanks to its adaptability it is also found in urban areas as a habitat. They have been seen in cities like Washington, DC, Chicago, and Toronto.

Food

The raccoon is classified as a carnivorous animal, but it is actually omnivorous. It feeds on crayfish and other arthropods, rodents, frogs, fish, insects, fruits, and other plant matter, including crops.

Sometimes they get too close to human settlements and thrive on a diet of junk, pet food, and any edible products.

Predators

The raccoon, despite its large size and vigorous defense, is preyed upon by bobcats, coyotes and pumas. However, most of the deaths are caused by humans and diseases, especially canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies.

Reproduction

The raccoon begins mating in early spring. The male mates with more than one female. However, some southern raccoons mate later and may last until June.

The young are born after a gestation period of 60 - 73 days. The litter contains between 1 - 6 young per year, which reach 10 cm in length and weigh about 75 g. They are born blind and deaf, and will take a month to develop. They do not have hair, but a light-colored layer of skin and their black mask is visible from birth.

The female is very interested in her young and cares for them for about a year, although the young begin to hunt for food and are weaned after about two months.

State of conservation

The raccoon is not in danger, except the Mapache pigmeo (P. pygmaeus) that is classified in danger of extinction by the IUCN. Populations continue to decline due to deforestation, climate change, and the introduction of invasive species. For more information, you can consult its file download here.

Relationship with humans

The raccoon adapts easily to every environment, so it is not difficult to see them together with humans. In fact, given that the main factor is food availability, the highest population densities are found next to large cities.

Due to its fondness for eggs, chickens, corn, melons, and garbage, the raccoon is not welcome in some areas. It is still hunted (often with hunting dogs) and trapped for its skin and meat.

In the early decades of the XNUMXth century, raccoon coats were de rigueur for the sports scene. As a result of the fur's value, raccoons were introduced to France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Russia, where they have become a nuisance.

In the latter part of the XNUMXth century, raccoons expanded their range northward in Canada, probably due to the conversion of forests to agricultural land. Warmer temperatures and less severe winters would allow raccoons to extend their range even further.

Popular culture

Folk tales were made in the mythology of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Stories like "How Raccoons Catch So Many Crayfish" by the Tuscarora focused on their foraging skills. In other tales, the raccoon played the role of the trickster, who is smarter than other animals, such as coyotes and wolves.

The Dakota soiux believed that the raccoon possessed natural spiritual powers, as its mask resembled the face paint of raccoons. The Aztecs linked supernataral abilities, especially with women, whose commitment to their young was associated with the role of wise women in their society.

The raccoon has been represented by various cultures in novels, which tell about the life of a raccoon, especially for children. The best known is the Rascal from Sterling North, which tells of how he raised a team during World War I.

In recent years it has taken on a particular presence as anthropomorphic raccoons played a leading role in the animated television series The Raccoons, the computer-animated film Over the Hedge, the live-action film Guardians of the Galaxy (and the comics in which was based on) and the Sly Cooper video game series.

The animated character called "Doraemon" despite being a robot cat, is often mistaken for a raccoon by the uncooked characters due to his large eyes and rounded face.

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