Raccoons, identifiable by their masked faces and bushy-ringed tails, are notable species in the family Procyonidae. This article thoroughly examines the different types of raccoons, detailing the habitats, distinctive features, and behaviors of the three primary species and some subspecies. Read on to learn more.
Raccoons, consisting of three primary species, belong to the Procyon genus and are integral members of the Procyonidae family.
The most widespread is the common raccoon, Procyon lotor, often just referred to as "the raccoon," given its familiar characteristics. Its counterparts inhabit tropical regions and are lesser-known.
Following the raccoon's initial discovery by Christopher Columbus's crew members, taxonomists struggled with its classification.
The species was first mistakenly associated with dogs, cats, badgers, and, notably, bears. Modern taxonomy's founding figure, Carl Linnaeus, categorized the raccoon under the genus Ursus, initially as Ursus cauda elongata, then Ursus Lotor.
Eventually, in 1780, Gottlieb Conrad Christian Storr initiated a classification shift, placing the raccoon into its own genus: Procyon.
As of 2005, the common raccoon has 22 recognized subspecies. In this list, we detail the three different raccoon species and some of the unique subspecies1.
Related Read: Raccoon Facts.
Types of Raccoon Species and Subspecies
1. North American Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
The Common Raccoon or Northern Raccoon, often termed so to distinguish it from its other species, is a native mammal of North America. They also live in parts of southern Canada and northern South America.
Initially, these creatures favored deciduous and mixed forests as their go-to habitats. However, with their remarkable ability to adapt, raccoons have extended their homes to places as diverse as mountainous terrains and coastal marshes.
Suburban and urban areas have also seen an influx of these animals, largely driving humans to view them as pests. Escapes and intentional introductions during the mid-20th century have amplified raccoon populations across central Europe, the Caucasus, and Japan.
An adult raccoon varies considerably in size, but three features stand out — dexterous front paws, facial mask, and ringed bushy tail.
Its sense of touch is also refined to an exceptional level, courtesy of its hypersensitive front paws. These paws, protected by a thin horny layer that becomes soft when damp, let the raccoons identify objects even before direct touch.
Despite their nocturnal nature, raccoons often break the pattern to exploit available food resources during daylight. Their diet largely comprises easy catches like crayfish, insects, and bird eggs, dismissing the common belief that they actively prey on large mammals.
Raccoons have adapted to urban life by making human food waste a staple of their diet. Their problem-solving ability to bypass nearly most secure garbage bins has earned them the nickname 'trash panda.'
The increasing North American raccoon population in urban settings has elicited varying human reactions, from feeding them deliberately to complete hostility.
Here are some of the raccoon subspecies you should know about.
Eastern Raccoon (Procyon lotor lotor)
Meet the Eastern raccoon, easily recognizable by its soft, long fur, which typically leans towards a darker hue. This small subspecies enjoys a hefty geographical range, spotted in places as north as Nova Scotia and south as North Carolina.
Upper Mississippi Valley Raccoon (Procyon lotor hirtus)
The Upper Mississippi Valley raccoon is a notably large, dark-furred raccoon subspecies. It is sporting a coat saturated with ochraceous buff; its home ranges from the eastern slopes of the Rockies to Lake Michigan and southern Manitoba to Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Key Vaca Raccoon (Procyon lotor auspicatus)
The Key Vaca raccoon, remarkably small and light-furred, is a subspecies dwelling in Key Vaca island and adjoining islands. These are part of the central main chain, nestled off Florida's southern coast.
Torch Key Raccoon (Procyon lotor incautus)
The Torch Key raccoon, a petite subspecies, proudly displays the palest fur among other Florida raccoons. You'll locate this particular raccoon mainly in the Big Pine Key Group, nestled in the southwestern extremity of Florida's Key chain.
Florida Raccoon (Procyon lotor elucus)
The Florida raccoon, distinctive and medium-sized, is a subspecies predominant in most of Peninsular Florida. It's dark-shaded with a prominent rusty rufous patch around the neck.
Texas Raccoon (Procyon lotor fuscipes)
Meet the Texas raccoon, a sizable subspecies draped in dark gray fur. Its range extends into southern Arkansas and Louisiana, primarily found across Texas, brushing northeastern Mexican states, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and even Tamaulipas' southern reaches.
Matecumbe Key Raccoon (Procyon lotor inesperatus)
The Matecumbe Key raccoon or Matecumbe Bay raccoon, a smaller, grayer cousin of the Florida raccoon, makes its home along Florida's southeast coast.
With a distinguishably flatter skull, it primarily frequents the Key Largo Group, spanning from Virginia Key to Lower Matecumbe Key.
Ten Thousand Island Raccoon (Procyon lotor marinus)
The Ten Thousand Island Raccoon showcases a compact form and substantial dentition. It's native to the Keys of the Ten Thousand Islands Group and also occupies the connected mainland of Southwest Florida.
Saint Simon Islands Raccoon (Procyon lotor litoreus)
The Saint Simon Islands Raccoon, medium size and distinct dark fur, shares similarities with its Florida counterpart. This subspecies thrives mainly along Georgia's coastal strip and islands, skillfully navigating this unique environment.
Guadeloupe Raccoon (Procyon lotor minor)
The Guadeloupe raccoon, endemic to the two main islands of Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles, displays unique characteristics resulting from insular dwarfism.
It has a finer skull structure than its larger cousins and sports a gray coat, tinged with subtle ocher around its neck and shoulders. Its underparts, with sparse guard hairs, reveal a light brown hue.
Pacific Northwest Raccoon (Procyon lotor pacificus)
The Pacific Northwest raccoon, sporting dark fur and a broad, flat skull, thrives in unique pockets of North America. Its habitat spans southwestern British Columbia and bar Vancouver Island and snakes into parts of Washington, Oregon, and far northwestern California.
Mississippi Delta Raccoon (Procyon lotor megalodous)
The Mississippi Delta raccoon is a medium-sized subspecies with a sturdy skull. It sports a coat of pale yellow tinged with black. This critter makes its home along southern Louisiana's coast—from St. Bernard Parish, extending to Cameron Parish.
2. Crab-Eating Raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus)
The Crab-eating Raccoon, or South American raccoon, echoes its northern relative in appearance with hallmark features like a ringed tail and distinctive "bandit mask."
This type of raccoon boasts narrower, sharper claws suitable for an arboreal life. Thriving in the marshy jungles of Central and South America, it eats not just crabs but also small amphibians, insects, shellfish, and even nuts or fruits.
This adept omnivore has broad, rounded cheek teeth, perfect for a hard-shelled diet.
3. Cozumel Raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus)
The Cozumel raccoon, colloquially known as the pygmy or dwarf raccoon, is an intriguing insular species endemic to Cozumel Island off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Smaller and distinguishable by its black throat band and golden tail, this type of raccoon offers a textbook case of insular dwarfism.
On average, this island dweller is 18% shorter and a significant 45% lighter than its mainland counterparts2. As for sexual dimorphism, male raccoons are larger than females by 20%.
This pygmy raccoon has an omnivorous diet. Crabs are its favorite, making up half of its meals, but fruit, frogs, lizards, and insects also diversify its menu. Their diet changes with the seasons, depending on food availability.
Regrettably, the Cozumel raccoon is critically endangered3. The population of less than 250 mature individuals is on a sharp decline due to human activities such as urban expansion, tourism, road construction, and the introduction of invasive species, not to mention intensifying hurricanes.
Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 627–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
De Villa-Meza, A., Ávila‐Flores, R., Cuarón, A. D., & Valenzuela‐Galván, D. (2011). Procyon pygmaeus (Carnivora: Procyonidae). Mammalian Species, 43, 87–93.
Cuarón, A.D., de Grammont, P.C. & McFadden, K. (2016). Procyon pygmaeus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18267A45201913.