Species Spotlight: Raccoon

June 24, 2010, 9:35 am

Often known as “masked bandits,” raccoons have gray fur, with what looks like a black mask around their eyes. Their fur is long and dense with a grizzled brown and black color that has often been described as "salt and pepper." Their bushy tails are ringed with black and white stripes, and can grow to be up to 15 inches long, with five to seven black rings.

As well-adapted forest dwellers, raccoons are agile climbers often make their homes in hollowed out trees. They are nocturnal and have well-developed senses of sight, hearing and smell. They have nimble feet, but are flat-footed like humans and bears and are slow runners. Adult raccoons may be up to three feet long and weigh up to 30 pounds.

Raccoons are omnivores and feed on a diverse diet of berries, acorns, small mammals, bugs, frogs and fish. They hunt in shallow water by turning over rocks and limbs and probing and grabbing with their front feet. They then use their front feet to hold food to their mouths as they eat.

Raccoons are inquisitive and seldom pass up the opportunity to investigate an interesting smell or crevice. They can probe a crack with their front feet and pull out anything of interest for closer inspection. Their intelligence and curiosity also attracts raccoons to campsites, where they’ve become notorious for their clever nighttime raids.

If given the chance, raccoons will eat human food and trash. Make sure your campsite snacks are stored away securely.

Fun Facts:

The name "raccoon" come from the Algonquian Indian word "arakum" or "aracoun," which means "he scratches with his hands."

Raccoons have hand-like front paws and long, thin mobile fingers, which make it possible for them to open jars, cans and latches, turn on faucets, untie knots, turn doorknobs and get into all kinds of mischief.