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12 Raccoon Facts About Our Masked Neighbors

These raccoon facts should shed light on the lives of these adaptable creatures often scurrying in our backyards. Their distinctive facial markings and curious behavior make them recognizable to many, but there's more to learn about our masked neighbors.

For instance, raccoons are known for their dexterous paws that can quickly manipulate objects as small as a coin. Moreover, they politely wash their hands before eating; you will understand why below. So here are some fantastic facts about raccoons that may surprise you! 

Related: You can also check out our fox facts about our fiery urban friends.

Summary: Essential Raccoon Facts

Raccoon Profile
Scientific Name:Procyon lotor
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Procyonidae
Genus:Procyon
Subspecies:22 recognized subspecies
Physical Characteristics
Size:60cm to 95cm (body length), 20cm to 40cm (tail length)
Weight:1.8kg to 10.4kg
Distinctive Characteristics:Rounded body, dense coat, bandit-like mask, dexterous front paws, and bushy, ringed tail
Habitat and Range
Primary Habitats:Forests, Mountainous areas, Coastal marshes, urban areas
Predominant Geographical Range:North America, introduced populations in Europe and Japan
Conservation Status
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN)
Major Threats:Habitat loss, hunting, road accidents
Conservation Initiatives:Protected in some states and countries, regulated hunting periods

Raccoon Q&A

These Are Some of the Most Common Questions People Ask About Raccoons with Answers:

  • What do raccoons eat? - Raccoons are omnivores and their diet includes fruits, plants, insects, rodents, and eggs.
  • Are raccoons nocturnal? - Yes, raccoons are primarily active at night.
  • Can raccoons climb? - Yes, raccoons are excellent climbers, using their sharp claws to scale trees and buildings.
  • What are baby raccoons called? - Baby raccoons are called kits or cubs.
  • Is it true raccoons wash their food? - Yes, raccoons appear to 'wash' their food in water before eating, although the exact reason for this behavior is disputed among experts.
  • How long do raccoons live? - In the wild, raccoons have a lifespan of 2 to 3 years, but in captivity they may live over 20 years.
  • Are raccoons a rabies risk? - Yes, raccoons are one of the most common carriers of rabies in the United States.
  • Do raccoons hibernate? - Raccoons do not hibernate, but they do live in dens and become less active during extreme winter weather.

12 Riveting Raccoon Facts

raccoon facts intro
Photo by John Fowler on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original),

1. Raccoons thrive in diverse environments.

There is only one species of raccoon, the Procyon lotor. However, around 22 subspecies within this species are found across different geographic locations. These raccoon subspecies exhibit slight variations in size, color, and habitat preferences.

As omnivorous animals, raccoons flourish in diverse environments thanks to their adaptations. They comfortably inhabit various habitats across North and South America. Even as urbanization advances, the common raccoon skillfully adapts to city life, utilizing human-made structures and resources for shelter and food. 

A critical factor in these animals' adaptability is their diverse diet. As opportunistic eaters, raccoons tend to consume fruits, nuts, insects, and small mammals. This dietary flexibility ensures they can find sustenance in almost any environment. 

Moreover, raccoons boast impressive physical attributes that enable them to traverse diverse terrains easily. Their agile paws, for example, help them climb trees and grasp various objects. At the same time, their thick fur insulates them against harsh weather conditions. 

2. Raccoons have distinctive facial markings.

closeup raccoon face markings
Photo by Vincent Dörig on Unsplash.

One of the most curious raccoon facts is the distinctive black fur around their eyes, resembling bandit masks. This element of raccoon fur serves a critical purpose for these primarily nocturnal animals. 

The dark markings absorb light, reducing glare and enabling raccoons to see better in low-light conditions3. As nocturnal animals, raccoons depend on their exceptional night vision to navigate their habitats, find food, and evade potential dangers.

Although the raccoon's facial markings might seem like a stylish accessory for a masked bandit, they offer more than an excellent appearance. The mask-like markings help raccoons thrive in various environments, from dense forests to bustling urban neighborhoods.

3. Raccoons have dexterous and sensitive front paws.

facts about raccoon paws
Photo by Manuel Amir on Unsplash.

Raccoons have a distinctive feature that sets them apart from other animals: highly sensitive and dexterous front paws resembling slender human hands. Their five-fingered paws resemble those of primates and humans, albeit without opposable thumbs. Despite this, raccoons can expertly manipulate objects, open containers, and easily unlock latches.

Interestingly, a raccoon's tactile sensitivity increases when its paws are wet. This is due to the abundance of nerve endings significantly enhancing their sense of touch2.

In both wild and urban settings, raccoons use their nimble fingers to catch prey or forage for food, showcasing their problem-solving abilities using tools like sticks to access hard-to-reach food items. Furthermore, the sharp hearing of raccoons can discern even the movement of creatures hidden beneath the forest foliage.

4. Raccoons “wash” their food before eating.

raccoon washing paws at the river
Photo by Manuel-h on Pixabay.

This one is an adorable raccoon fact! The English word "raccoon" stems from the Proto-Algonquian language, meaning "one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands." This name aptly describes the raccoon species and their fascinating behavior of "washing" their food, also known as "dousing." 

This practice involves submerging and manipulating food in water using their highly sensitive paws, gaining a heightened sense of touch when wet (as previously mentioned), and allowing raccoons to understand better the food they consume.

This little washing bear adapted to different environments by moistening its food and breaking down larger or tougher items for easier swallowing. Furthermore, this behavior may help remove potential contaminants, especially in urban areas, where raccoons often forage through garbage cans and dirty places. 

However, it's important to note that not all raccoons exhibit this washing ritual, which is more prevalent in specific regions and populations.

5. Raccoons have terrific night vision.

Raccoons, as nocturnal creatures, have remarkable abilities to navigate and thrive in the dark, thanks to their excellent night vision. A recent study reveals that raccoons have a unique eye structure with special layers and tiny blood vessels that enable them to capture more light. 

This specialized eye design, combined with the well-developed body fluid that nourishes their eyes, ensures that raccoons can easily spot movement and detect potential food sources and threats in low-light conditions1.

They also rely on their whiskers' sensitivity to detect subtle changes in air currents and textures, much like humans reading Braille. While raccoons are primarily nocturnal, they might also venture out during the day when food is scarce or in areas with minimal human activity. 

Related: Check out our collection of bat facts if you want to know how the flying mammals “see” at night.

6. Raccoons are great at climbing trees.

raccoon climbing tree
Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash.

Raccoons' agility stems from a unique adaptation in their hind feet, which allows them to rotate 180 degrees and quickly descend trees headfirst. This skill gives them an edge when climbing trees to evade predators or navigate their environment.

As clever climbers, raccoons often scale hollow trees to access food sources such as insects, bird nests, and fruits. They also use their climbing prowess to gain better vantage points for observing their surroundings and finding potential den sites within tree cavities. These dens serve multiple purposes, including resting places, hiding spots, and safe havens for rearing their young.

Raccoon kits learn to climb trees early, with their mothers playing a vital role in teaching them how to navigate branches and traverse treetops. Moreover, a raccoon can scale fences, walls, and buildings for food and shelter.

You are halfway through! Continue browsing for more facts about raccoons.

7. Baby raccoons are born blind.

one baby raccoon on grass
Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

A baby raccoon called a kit is born blind and helpless, depending solely on its mother's warmth and protection within their safe den. Usually delivered in spring, these tiny creatures weigh 2-3 ounces. Their eyes open in just a few weeks, allowing them to explore the world around them and igniting their natural curiosity.

Playfulness becomes central to their lives as the kits develop and gain independence. They wrestle, climb, and chase each other around the den, learning about their environment and honing essential survival skills through play. 

This exploration and playtime help them build strength, coordination, and social bonds among siblings. Just like human children, raccoons learn and grow through play.

8. Mother raccoons are fiercely protective of their young.

Female raccoons, known as sows, demonstrate remarkable maternal instincts and dedication to their offspring. Meanwhile, male raccoons are called boar. 

When their kits are born, the sow devotes their time and energy to nurturing and shielding them from predators and environmental hazards. Exhibiting a fierce commitment to her young, the mother raccoon is willing to risk her safety to defend her vulnerable kits.

In danger, a female raccoon displays unexpected aggression, using her sharp claws and teeth to deter potential threats. During their early life stages, raccoon kits rely entirely on their mother for survival. She nurses them but also imparts essential skills they'll need as adults, such as foraging for food, climbing trees, and grooming. 

9. Raccoons love the city, especially our houses.

open mouth raccoon
Photo by zoofanatic on Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Urban raccoons are generally more clever than their rural counterparts. That is why we should effectively raccoon-proof our homes to avoid potential damage or health risks. 

Start by securing your trash cans, as city raccoons are notorious for rummaging through garbage in search of an easy meal. Invest in heavy-duty cans with tight-fitting lids and fasten them with bungee cords or locks. Also, store cans in secure locations, such as sheds or garages, to deter raccoons.

Moreover, eliminate other food sources, including outdoor pet food, fallen fruit, or nuts, to render your property less appealing to these opportunistic feeders. Since raccoons are adept climbers, they can access roofs, bird feeders, vents, and chimneys seeking shelter. Thus, it is crucial to use hardware cloth or metal flashing to cover any potential entry points. 

Additionally, conduct regular property inspections for signs of raccoon activity, such as droppings or tracks, allowing prompt identification and resolution of entry points, ensuring a safe and raccoon-free home.

10. Raccoons live for only 2-3 years in the wild.

two raccoons in the water
Photo by Lino Thaesler on Unsplash.

Raccoons are intelligent animals but often live on borrowed time due to various factors. As wild animals, a raccoon's life typically spans a mere 2 to 3 years, contrasting sharply with captive raccoons, who can live for potentially 20 years. Wildlife biologists describe raccoons' numerous challenges in their natural habitats, such as predation, disease, and human activity.

For example, raccoons often fall prey to larger predators like coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey. Diseases, including rabies and canine distemper, also threaten their well-being. Despite these challenges, raccoons showcase remarkable resilience in the face of adversity.

In human-populated areas, urban raccoons benefit from an abundant food supply and relatively fewer natural predators, increasing their chances of longevity. Humans can even keep a pet raccoon or two, like the white house raccoon or the presidential raccoon of President Calvin Coolidege's administration. However, it's important to note that urban living presents raccoon challenges, such as vehicular accidents and exposure to human-induced hazards. 

11. One raccoon species has a critically endangered status.

pygmy raccoon and baby
Photo by Cristopher Gonzalez on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Wild raccoon species generally have an abundant population with minimal conservation concerns. However, one exception is the pygmy raccoon, found exclusively on Cozumel Island, Mexico. 

This critically endangered species faces numerous threats, including habitat loss due to tourism development, the introduction of non-native predators, and more. Efforts to conserve the pygmy raccoons and their distinctive habitat are crucial to prevent the species from further decline. 

Although many areas consider the common raccoons as pests, we must treat all their species respectfully and employ proper management techniques. We can safeguard these creatures through collaboration and conscientious conservation practices and ensure a harmonious coexistence.

Related: For more, click on over to our raccoon quotes to share some sayings and inspiration, or to further explore the animal kingdom, check out some other animals that start with R.

1

Ninomiya, H., Inomata, T., & Kanemaki, N. (2005). Microvasculature of the Retina, Ciliary Processes and Choroid in the North American Raccoon (Procyon lotor) Eye: A Scanning Electron Microscopic Study of Corrosion Casts. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science67(6), 547–554. 

2

Turnbull, B. G., & Rasmusson, D. D. (1986b). Sensory Innervation of the Raccoon Forepaw: 1. Receptor Types in Glabrous and Hairy Skin and Deep Tissue. Somatosensory Research4(1), 43–62. 

3

Zeveloff, S. I. (2002). Raccoons: A natural history. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

By Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by Richard Burlton on Unsplash
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