Nature in Canada: Raccoons

Friendly abandoning a hamburger

This raccoon was given the name Friendly moments before I took this picture, which shows the garbage bandit fleeing our back deck and leaving an old hamburger patty behind. I went to check out a raucous-like noise outside, and this buddy was sitting at the backdoor with its little hand on the glass. I placed my hand over it on the other side of the glass, like in the scene where Spock dies in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A friendship was born; hence, the name Friendly. Unfortunately, something outside spooked him and our bond was quickly broken.

Regarding bonds, raccoons can be solitary creatures, despite living in urban areas with 10 to 25 nearby raccoons per square kilometer. When males reach the age of two and females reach the age of one, they will begin mating in the winter until as late as June. Males will mate with multiple females per breeding season, whereas females will only mate once. Litters of one to seven offspring are then born after nine weeks, with an average litter size of 3 to 4 kits. The young are blind and deaf for the first few weeks after birth, staying under the care of their mother until after their first winter season. During this time of rearing, the mother will not separate herself from her young, as she is very protective of them. In the wild, raccoons will often only live for two to five years; however, they can live up to 20 years in captivity.

The English name ‘raccoon’ was derived from the Powhatan word “aroughcun/arounghcoune” of the Algonquian language, meaning “one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands”. Raccoons have hands with five fingers to easily grasp objects, as well as feet that can rotate 180 degrees to facilitate climbing. Such dexterity provides them with excellent food procurement skills. As a result, these medium-sized mammals eat a wide variety of different foods, including fruits, vegetables, insects, eggs, and small fur-bearing, aquatic, and mollusk species. As they are omnivorous, raccoons see a trashcan as an oasis, drawing them towards urban centers. For instance, the city of Toronto has about fifty times more raccoons compared to surrounding suburban and country areas. Raccoons usually have five to six dens that can be found in attics, chimneys, crawlspaces, decks, sheds, barns, and abandoned buildings. In natural areas, raccoons create dens in hollow trees, ground burrows, rock spaces, or brush piles. They like to live around areas with water, such as marshes, streams, or lakes.

The raccoon is indigenous to North America, having been transported by humans to other places around the world. There are three species of raccoon existing today: Procyon lotor (Northern common raccoon), P. carnivorous (Southern crab-eating raccoon), and P. pygmaeus (Cozumel island raccoon). These species contain many subspecies. In the scientific name for the common raccoon, “Procyon” refers to “pre-dog” and “lotor” refers to “washing”. Raccoons can often be seen washing their hands and food as a manner of “dousing”, which refers to wetting their hands to stimulate nerve endings that provide them with sensory information. The notorious mask around their eyes also provides them with more sensory information, as the black shading absorbs light to reduce glare in their eyesight and to improve their nocturnal vision. Raccoons are intelligent animals in general, given their ability to survive in a variety of conditions and to communicate with over 50 different vocalizations. Here is another picture of Friendly investigating our back deck in the morning. This clever raccoon managed to get into our garbage and unwrap some stale grain bars to feast on. In reference to the popular Vulcan saying, may Friendly live long and prosper.

Friendly being curious

References

  1. AAA Wildlife Control. Everything You Wanted To Know About Raccoons. https://www.vancouverwildlife.com/raccoons/raccoon-facts/
  2. Conger, C. Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?. howstuffworks. https://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/raccoons-wash-food.htm
  3. Debczak, M. 10 Clever Facts About Raccoons. Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/527175/10-clever-facts-about-raccoons
  4. Lupo, L. J. Basic Facts About Raccoons. The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/all-about-raccoons-2656299
  5. Procyon (genus). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procyon_(genus)
  6. S.O.S Wildlife Control. 10 Interesting Facts About Raccoons. https://www.soswildlifecontrol.com/10-interesting-facts-about-raccoons/

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