Raccoons are found across southern Canada, throughout most of the United States, and into northern South America. They have been introduced to parts of Asia and Europe and are now widely distributed there as well. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons are extremely adaptable, being found in many kinds of habitats and easily living near humans. They require ready access to water. Raccoons prefer to live in moist woodland areas. However, they can also be found in farmlands, suburban, and urban areas. Raccoons prefer to build dens in trees, but may also use woodchuck burrows, caves, mines, deserted buildings, barns, garages, rain sewers, or houses. Raccoons can live in a wide variety of habitats from warm, tropical areas to cold grasslands. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
The most distinguishable characteristics of the raccoon are its black mask across the eyes and bushy tail with anywhere from four to ten black rings. The forepaws resemble slender human hands and make the raccoon unusually dexterous. Both their forepaws and hindpaws have five toes. Coloration varies with habitat, but tends to range from grey to reddish brown to buff. Raccoons are stocky in build and generally weigh from six to seven kilograms. Weight varies with habitat and region, though, and can range from 1.8 to 10.4kg. Raccoons are capable of acheiving body masses made up of 50% body fat, but it is mostly raccoons in the northern parts of the range that become this fat. Males are usually heavier than females by 10 to 30%. Body length ranges from 603 to 950 mm. Their tails comprise about 42% to 52% of their length, from 192 to 405 mm. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
During the mating season, raccoon males frequently expand their home ranges, presumably to include the home ranges of more females as potential mates. Females are sometimes found temporarily denning with males during the mating season. After mating there is no association of males and females. (Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons generally have one litter per year. Litter sizes range from 3 to 7, but are typically 4. The gestation period is 63 to 65 days. Sexual maturity often occurs in females before they are one year old, and in males at two years. Mating season is from February through June, with most mating in March. Northern populations tend to breed earlier than southern populations. Young are born blind and helpless in a tree den, their eyes open at 18 to 24 days of age, and they are weaned after 70 days. By 20 weeks old the young regularly forage with their mother at night and continue to stay in the den with her. The young remain with their mother through their first winter, becoming independent early the following spring. Mothers and young often den nearby even after they have reached maturity. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons may live up to 16 years in the wild, but most don't make it past their second year. If they survive their youth, raccoons may live an average of 5 years in the wild. The primary causes of death are humans (hunting, trapping, cars) and malnutrition. A captive animal was recorded living for 21 years. (Nowak, 1991)
Raccoons are nocturnal and seldom active in the daytime. During extremely cold, snowy periods raccoons have been observed sleeping for long periods at a time, but do not hibernate. Their metabolic rate and temperatures remain constant during these times and they live off of their fat reserves, potentially losing as much as 50% of their body weight. Primarily a solitary animal, the only real social groups raccoons form are that of mother and young. Occasionally a male may stay with a female for a month prior to breeding and until after the birth of their young. Their common gait is a shuffle like walk, however, they are able to reach speeds of 15 miles per hour on the ground. Raccoons climb with great agility and are not bothered by a drop of 35 to 40 feet. As well as being excellent climbers, raccoons are strong swimmers, although they may be reluctant to do so. Without waterproof fur, swimming forces them to take on extra weight. Raccoons don't travel any farther than necessary; they travel only far enough to meet the demands of their appetites. In a Virginia mountain hollow, resident raccoons traveled between 0.75 and 2.5 km per night, with males traveling slightly farther during fall, winter, and spring, and females traveling longer during summer, when they are foraging with and for their young. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Population densities vary widely with habitat type. In wet, lowland areas, such as marshes, intertidal areas, and flood plains, densities averaged 50 per square kilometer. In agricultural areas and hardwood forests, densities were up to 20 per square kilometer and, in suburban areas, up to 69 per square kilometer. The highest density recorded was 400 per square kilometer in a Missouri marsh. Rabies may substantially impact population densities, with populations doubling in density during times of low rabies incidence. (Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Home range diameters are typically from 1 to 3 km, but can be up to 10 km in western areas of their range. Reported home range areas vary from 0.2 to 4946 hectares, but may be more typically around 65 hectares for males and 39 hectares for females (in Georgia). Home ranges are generally not exclusive, although some level of territoriality has been recorded in western prairies, where racoon densities are low (0.5 to 3 per square kilometer), as is resource availability. (Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons have a highly developed tactile sense. Their human-like forepaws are especially sensitive and enable the raccoon to handle and pry open prey and climb with ease. They usually pick up food with their front paws before putting it in their mouth. With their fine sense of hearing raccoons are also especially alert. Similarly, raccoons have excellent night vision. (Nowak, 1991)
Procyon lotor is omnivorous and opportunistic. In some habitats plants provide a larger percentage of a raccoon's diet than animals do. Plant foods vary from fruits to nuts, including wild grapes, cherries, apples, persimmons, berries, and acorns. Where available raccoons may also eat peaches, plums, figs, citrus fruits, watermelons, beech nuts, and walnuts. In some areas, corn is the most important item in their diet. Raccoons consume more invertebrates than vertebrates. Crayfish, insects, rodents, frogs, fish, and bird eggs are all possible components of a raccoon's diet. Raccoons have adapted to include trash and other food available in suburban and urban areas in their diet. Some raccoons eat carrion from roadkilled animals. Raccoons travel in straight lines between their dens and rich food patches. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons escape many predators by remaining inactive during the day in a den. While active they remain alert and can be aggressive. They are preyed on by large predators such as coyotes, wolves, large hawks, and owls. Their young may be taken by snakes as well.
Raccoons impact the population sizes of their primary prey items. In some areas where they eat mainly one type of prey, such as crayfish, clams, or insects, this can have a large impact on community composition.
Raccoon pelts have been harvested since the colonial period. During the 1920s, "coon" coats were popular making a pelt worth about $14. Although demand is no longer as high, raccoon pelts may still be sold as imitation mink, otter, or seal fur. Raccoons are also eaten in some areas. (Nowak, 1991)
Raccoons may be a nuisance to farmers. They can cause damage to orchards, vineyards, melon patches, cornfields, peanut fields, and chicken yards. Their habit of moving on to the next ear of corn before finishing the first makes them especially damaging to fields of both sweet corn and field corn. Raccoons also carry sylvatic plague, rabies, and other diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to humans and domestic animals. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Since the turn of the century raccoon populations have grown and their distribution may have expanded. Their ability to adapt to human-dominated landscapes has contributed to their expansion in numbers and range. Small, isolated, island populations of raccoons may, on the other hand, be threatened. Recent authors consider some island species of raccoons to be conspecific with Procyon lotor, these include: P. lotor insularis (Marias Islands, Mexico), P. lotor gloveralleni (Barbados), P. lotor maynardi (Bahamas), P. lotor (Guadeloupe Island, French Antilles), and P. pygameus (Cozumel Island, Mexico). All of these are considered endangered, P. lotor gloveralleni is extinct. (Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)
Raccoons are commonly associated with washing their food. Their latin name, lotor, means "the washer." People sometimes keep young raccoons as pets, because they are curious and intelligent. Once grown, however, raccoons can be quite destructive in and around homes.
Tanya Dewey (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Rebecca Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.
flesh of dead animals.
either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal
Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
active at dawn and dusk
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.
union of egg and spermatozoan
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.
referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
Gable, T. 2000. "The Gable's Raccoon World" (On-line). Accessed 16 May 2000 at http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Vines/4892/main.html.
League, K. 2005. "Wildlife Species: Procyon lotor" (On-line). Fire Effects Information System. Accessed June 30, 2005 at http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/wildlife/mammal/prlo/.
Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press.