A common animal found throughout most of the United States is the raccoon (Procyon lotor). Raccoons are native to North America; although similar animals, also known as raccoons, exist in Central America and the Caribbean Islands. “Raccoon” comes from the Powhatan word meaning “one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with his hands.” These animals have very dexterous front paws that they often use to wash food, and a very well-defined sense of touch, with more nerve endings in their hands than nearly any other mammal. Raccoons are very good climbers; they are one of the few animals that can climb both forward and backward. This animal is fast, reaching speeds of 15 miles per hour. They are also very good swimmers. Raccoons are omnivores, consuming both meat and plants, and they are not very picky. Raccoons weigh about 8 – 20 pounds at maturity. A raccoon in captivity can live 20 years, but their lifespan averages only 2 to 4 years in the wild, mainly due to predation, traffic, and disease. They are mostly nocturnal, possessing excellent night vision and acute hearing. They sometimes group by gender in loosely-formed groups of males or females. Raccoons will become inactive during the winter, sleeping much like a bear, but are not true hibernators. Early naturalists classified raccoons as part of the bear family, but that changed, and the raccoon was given its own designation (Procyon,) which means “dog-like.”

Before European settlement, raccoons were mostly found in forested areas around streams in the North East, with a smaller subspecies in Florida. The very adaptable raccoon learned to thrive with humans, and their numbers spread across the US and Canada as these areas were settled. Raccoons were brought to Europe to be used for fur. Enough raccoons escaped captivity so that they are now found throughout much of that continent. This is one animal that has all the tools to live with humans, even though they can be a pest by knocking over your garbage can once in a while.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 8/20/2017