Plants and Animals
Don’t let their bad reputation alarm you, these masked furbearers do good as well as mischief.
One of Missouri’s more infamous troublemakers, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) does more than just invade trash cans and make a ruckus.
The raccoon’s coloring is one of the natural world’s great icons, with its legendary “robber’s mask” and ringed tail. In both males and females, the primary body color ranges from a grayish-yellow to a dark brown. Females average between 6 and 20 pounds, males weigh from 8 to 40 pounds.
An omnivorous, opportunistic feeder, raccoons are adept at foraging for plant matter, such as Osage orange fruit, wild blackberries, acorns, grapes and persimmons, or hunting prey. What raccoons eat is largely dependent on what they can find. Snakes, turtles and their eggs, crayfish, lizards, frogs, rabbits, muskrat, snails, slugs and earthworms are all on the menu. As a nocturnal animal, the bulk of its hunting and gathering is done at night.
In Missouri, raccoons are abundant in hardwood timbered habitat such as forestlands, but also will make their home territory near smaller stands of trees near a water source, such as a stream, pond or swamp. They den in hollowed out trees or small caves, crevices, abandoned burrows and dens, and other similar places. Raccoons are found statewide. Solitary creatures, males occupy a home territory of about 1 square mile, while females and their young occupy about 3/4 square mile. In severe winter weather, raccoons will burrow together and are largely inactive.
Females come into breeding condition in December or January. Most breeding occurs in January and February, but some may take place later in the spring. Most litters are born in April or early May, but some, the result of late matings, may arrive in June, July or August. Gestation is about 63 days, with litters of three to four kits, or cubs, per litter. Raccoons usually have one litter annually. The kits weigh 2.5 ounces at birth and are completely covered in fur. If they are not born with the typical mask across the eyes, they develop it within 10 days. The kits will stay in the den for eight to 10 weeks, until they are old enough to begin foraging with their mother. Most of the young raccoons will stay with their mother until the following spring.
Though they tend to be on the large side, raccoons are not without predators. Owls, bobcats, red foxes, coyotes and free-running dogs will prey on the raccoon. Trapping or hunting raccoons for fur or food is also a popular pursuit.
Despite a reputation for foraging through trash, raccoons are actually an important part of their local ecosystem and are great for pest control. Their taste for insects, mice and other nuisance animals make them a helpful, if quirky neighbor.
—Jason Granger, photo by Noppadol Paothong
For More Information
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