North American Raccoon
Procyon lotor cancrivorus

Raccoons: Raccoon eating from a tourist's hand (Not the photographer's). Visitors are asked not to feed the wild animals in the park, and signs are posts at Stanley Park entrances. PHOTO: Elaine Ayres, 1996.

Don't Feed the Animals! –Although this Raccoon will eat from a tourist's hand (not the photographer's), visitors are asked not to feed the wild animals in Stanley Park. Warnings are posted at most park entrances. (Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.)
PHOTO: Elaine Ayres, Summer 1996.

genus: Procyon lotor   species: cancrivorus

Raccoons (or 'coons, slang) are one of the most familiar North American animals.

The raccoon's head and body measure about 16 to 24 inches, with a tail of 8 - 16 inches, and they can weigh up to 45 pounds. Their fur is grey to black with black rings on the tail and a distinctive back 'burglar mask' over their eyes.

Raccoons are relatives of pandas, kinkajous and coatis. There are seven species, the best known ranges Canada to Central America. Raccoons are mostly solitary, with an individual range of about four acres. Dens are usually in a hollow tree or in a rock crevice. Raccoons tend to be more nocturnal.

Raccoons eat a very wide variety of both plant and animal food, but are mostly carnivorous. Their diet includes birds' eggs, earthworms, insects, frogs, shellfish and other small creatures and raccoons also hunt in swamps and streams for crayfish. The ability to eat such a range of food is probably why raccoons have been able to adapt to such extreme changes in habitat.

Raccoons even thrive in large city centres, such as Vancouver and Toronto, often surviving by raiding garbage bins. Their feet have long toes and the front paws are almost hand-like and very dexterous. They use their hands almost as skillfully as monkeys. They have been known to untie ropes securing bins, rather than chewing through. Experiments have shown that their sense of touch is very well developed.

Raccoons mate in January or February, each male mating with several females then leaving them to raise the family. The young, usually three or four kits in a litter, are born from April to June, after 60-70 days gestation. Eyes open at around 18 days, and at ten weeks they emerge from the nest for short trips with their mother. They stay with the mother until they are about a year old. Raccoons live as long as 13 years.

Raccoons are a match for most predators and when hunted with dogs raccoons have been known to lure a hound into water and drown it.

Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia 15. Funk & Wagnalls, Inc. New York, NY, 1969/1970.

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Created: March 11, 2000
Last modified: March 21, 2000

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