Procyon lotor


^ Classification

Table of Contents

^ Geographic Range

Palearctic, Oriental: Raccoons are found across southern Canada south to northern South America.

^ Physical Characteristics

Mass: 3.6 to 9 kg   (8 lbs to 20 lbs)

The most distiguishable charateristics of the raccoon are its black mask across the eyes and bushy tail with anywhere from four to ten black rings. The forepaws resemble slendor human hands and make the raccoon unusually dextrous. Both their forepaws and hindpaws have five toes. Coloration varies with habitat, but tends to range from grey to reddish brown to buff. The raccoon's body is stocky and generally weighs from six to seven kilograms; weight varies with habitat and region as well. Males are usually heavier than females, but the difference is often indistiguishable. Raccoons' body length ranges from 60 to 105cm. Their tails comprise about 42% to 52% of their length.

^ Natural History

Food Habits

Procyon lotor is omnivorous and opportunistic. In most habitats plants provide a larger percentage of the 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, much to the dismay of farmers, corn is the most important item in procyon lotor's diet. Raccoons consume more invertebrates than vertebrates. Crayfish, insects, rodents, frogs, 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 have even been found eating the remains of animals along road sides.


Raccoons generally have one litter per year. Litter sizes range from one to eight young, with three to four the most common. Young are born after a gestation period of 60-73 days. At birth both the ear and eye canals are closed and open after 18 to 24 days. By the fourth or sixth week the young are able to support their weight with their legs. Females are protective of their young and care for them for about a year, even though the young are weaned and begin hunting for food at about two or three months. Sexual maturity occurs in females at one year and in males at two years. In the northern areas of the raccoon's range mating season is January through March, with a peak in February. Breeding occurs later in the year in the southern areas of the range.


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 hybernate. Primarily a solitary animal, the only real social groups raccoons form are that of mother and young. Although, occasionally a male may stay with a female for a month prior to breeding and until after the birth of their young. 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. With their fine sense of hearing raccoons are also especially alert. Similarly, raccoons have excellent night vision. 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 also strong swimmers which is beneficial to an animal that often lives near water. However, they are reluctant to swim; 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. During breeding season males will travel up to four or five miles from their den, while females seldom travel farther than half a mile from their den.


Raccoons are extremely adaptable and continue to thrive despite the encroachment of civilization on their range. Woodlands near water are their preferred habitat, although raccoons may also be found in farmlands, suburban or urban areas. Raccoons prefer to den in trees, however, they may also use woodchuck burrows, caves, mine shafts, deserted buildings, barns, garages, rain sewers, or houses. Living in a burrow actually increases the raccoon's chances of survival making it harder for its predators to find it. Hunting dogs have an easier time treeing a raccoon than forcing it out of a burrow.

Biomes: temperate grassland

^ Conservation/Biodiversity

Status: .

Since the turn of the century raccoon populations have grown. As stated earlier, their ability to adapt to urbanization has made them more common in such settings.

^ Economic Benefits for Humans


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 often a nuisance to farmers. They cause damage to orchards, vineyards, melon patches, cornfields, peanut fields, and chicken yards. Raccoons' habit of moving on to the next ear of corn before finishing the first makes them especially damaging to both fields of sweet corn and field corn.

^ Other Comments

Raccoons are commonly associated with washing their food. Their latin name, lotor, means "the washer." In fact, this behavior is generally only practiced by individuals in captivity. Several explainations have been given for this behavior. Some believed raccoons had insufficient salivary glands, but this was disproved. Currently, this behavior is believed to be a replacement for the natural behavior of catching crayfish or other aquatic prey. People have often made young raccoons, curious and intelligent, into pets. Adult raccoons can be savage fighters if cornered. Few dogs can successfully attack an adult who is ripping and slashing with their teeth and claws. Raccoons may even drown their opponent if in water. Raccoons may live up to 16 years in the wild, but most don't make it past their second year. The primary causes of death are humans(hunting, trapping, cars) and malnutriton. Most of the raccoon's other natural predators are no longer found in their range.

^ References

Chapman, J. A. and G. A. Feldhamer. 1892. Wild Mammals of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1994. Vol. 9. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Chicago.

Deems, E. F. and D. Pursley, ed. 1983. North American Furbearers. International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Rue, L. L. 1968. Sportman's Guide of Game Animals. Harper & Row, New York.