Ravenous Raccoons

Jan 05, 2015

If there were a competition to determine which animal would best outsmart humans, the raccoon would definitely win.

Your car’s headlights reflect off bright red eyes from a hunchbacked form ambling across the road. The black mask and ringed tail identify it as a raccoon, that curious nighttime prowler.

During the night, raccoons search out a variety of food, from fruit and near-ripe sweet corn to wriggling crayfish, worms, frogs, fish, dead animals and even garbage. The long, sensitive goners on a raccoon’s front paws are just right for reaching into tight cracks and hiding places. Although it’s a popular believe, it’s not true that raccoons always wash their food. Raccoons often catch prey in water, but they’ll eat food wherever they find it without dousing it with water.

Raccoons are intelligent and curious. They can remove lids from garbage cans and figure out how to open tricky latches on storage containers. Once a raccoon learns how to pick locks, it will remember how to open them the next time. Young raccoons may then learn these techniques by mimicking other raccoons. As campers and picnickers learn, it’s sometimes impossible to outsmart them.

The masked bandit may be stalking your neighborhood, whether you live in the country, city or suburb.

Raccoon Redux

  • Raccoons prefer timbered habitat near water. They also may be found in urban and suburban areas. Dens are made in hollow trees, in caves, rocky crevices, abandoned woodchuck burrows and many other places.
  • The state’s raccoon population reached a low point in the 1940s and has been rebounding ever since, in part due to regulated hunting and trapping as well as an increase in suitable habitat.
  • Most breeding occurs in February, and most litters are born in April or early May, though some litters are born as late as August. The young are usually weaned by August but stay with their mothers until the next spring.
  • Raccoons are a valuable fur species; their fur is used for coats, collars, muffs and trimmings. Also, many hunters enjoy pursuing them with hounds, and the meat is delicious when roasted. Raccoons eat insects and mice and only rarely cause extensive damage to corn, gardens or chickens.

Read more about raccoons in the MDC’s Field Guide.

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