The raccoon (procyon lotor) is a familiar animal to most Americans because they are found throughout North America. Their range extends from Southern Canada to Central America, with the exception of desert areas and parts of Utah, Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. Raccoons are related to ringtails, coatis and kinkajous.
Though generally tolerated in urban areas, the raccoon is considered a pest in parts of the country, especially farming areas where they will prey on small domestic animals and on crops.
Probably the most known image of raccoons is of the animal "washing" its food in a water source. This behavior has been interpreted not as washing, but rather as moistening the food.
An intelligent and curious animal with long finger-like toes, the raccoon is an opportunistic feeder. They will catch and eat fish, insects, lizards and amphibians. They will also eat small mammals, eggs, acorns, fruit and grains. In urban areas and campsites they will raid trash cans. With their nimble fingers they can easily open latches and pry off lids.
Raccoons are generally solitary although they sometimes band together for shelter and food. Males will fiercely defend their territories and food sources and females will fiercely protect their young. Mating takes place in winter. Females give birth to litter of 1-7 kits who will depend on their mother for up to 130 days after which they will leave to find their own territory.
Raccoons are nocturnal animals, taking shelter in dens, trees or logs during the day. In urban areas they will take up residence in abandoned buildings or in attics and cellars.
They do not hibernate in winter but may sleep for several days at a time in the colder northern areas.
Raccoons have few natural enemies. The young may be prey to bobcats, wolves, coyotes and great horned owls. Domestic dogs may attack raccoons, although cats pose no threat. Raccoons are protected from hunting and trapping in national parks and nature reserves.
Because raccoons are so appealing, people may feed them or keep them as pets. Feeding any wild animal is dangerous for humans and certainly unfair to the animal. Raccoons become easily tolerant of humans and will come to rely on us for food. They will lose their natural "respect" of people. Once they associate people with food they can become bold enough to raid cars at campsites or enter cat doors to feast on pet food. In areas where raccoons are fed by people, the increased raccoon population and competition for food can lead to tension and frequent fighting.
Raccoons should not be kept as pets. While they can appear tame, they are still wild animals. They are high maintenance animals with a great deal of inquisitiveness, and they may be carriers of diseases which are dangerous to humans.
The Wildlife Waystation takes in orphaned raccoons every year. Baby raccoons are raised by hand, then rehabilitated back into the wild