Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal foods. Plant foods in- clude all types of fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods are crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl. Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not always wash their food before eating, al- though they frequently play with their food in water.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor), also called “coon,” is a stocky mammal about 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 em) long, weighing 10 to 30 pounds (4.5 to 13.5 kg) (rarely 40 to 50 pounds [18 to 22.5 kg]). It is dis- tinctively marked, with a prominent black “mask” over the eyes and a heavily furred, ringed tail . The animal is a grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black above, although some individuals are strongly washed with yellow. Raccoons from the prairie areas of the western Great Plains are paler in color than those from eastern portions of the region.
‘The raccoon is found throughout the United States, with the exception of the higher elevations of mountainous regions and some areas of the arid Southwest. Raccoons are more common in the wooded eastern portions of the United States than in the more arid western plains.
Raccoons prefer hardwood forest areas near water. Although commonly found in association with water and trees, raccoons occur in many areas of the western United States around farmsteads and livestock watering areas, far from naturally occurring bodies of permanent water. Raccoons den in hollow trees, ground burrows, brush piles, muskrat houses, barns and abandoned buildings, dense clumps of cattail, haystacks, or rock crevices.
General Biology, Reproduction. and Behavior
Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal foods. Plant foods in- clude all types of fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods are crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl. Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not always wash their food before eating, although they frequently play with their food in water.
Raccoons breed mainly in February or March, but matings may occur from December through June, depending on latitude. ‘The gestation period is about 63 days. Most litters are born in April or May but some late-breeding females may not give birth until June, July, or August. Only 1 litter of young is raised per year. Average litter size is 3 to 5. ‘The young first open their eyes at about 3 weeks of age. Young raccoons are weaned sometime between 2 and 4 months of age.
Raccoons are nocturnal. Adult males occupy areas of about 3 to 20 square miles (8 to 52 krrr’), compared to about 1 to 6 square miles (3 to 16 krrr’) for females. Adult males tend to be territorial and their ranges overlap very little. Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they do “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather. In the southern United States they may be inactive for only a day or two at a time, whereas in the north this period of inactivity may extend for weeks or months. In northern areas, raccoons may lose up to half their fall body weight during winter as they utilize stored body fat.
Raccoon populations consist of a high proportion of young animals, with one-half to three-fourths of fall populations normally composed of animals less than 1 year in age. Raccoons may live as long as 12 years in the wild, but such animals are extremely rare. Usually less than half of the females will breed the year after their birth, whereas most adult females normally breed every year.
Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year and the young will often den for the winter with the adult female. ‘The family gradually separates during the following spring and the young become independent.
Damage and Damage Identification
Raccoons occasionally kill poultry and leave distinctive signs. The heads of adult birds are usually bitten off and left some distance from the body. ‘The crop and breast may be torn and chewed, the entrails sometimes eaten, and bits of flesh left near water. Young poultry in pens or cages may be killed or injured by raccoons reaching through the wire and attempting to pull the birds back through the mesh. Legs or feet of the young birds may be missing. Eggs may be removed completely from nests or eaten on the spot with only the heavily cracked shell remaining. ‘The lines of fracture will normally be along the long axis of the egg, and the nest materials are often disturbed. Raccoons can also destroy bird nests in artificial nesting structures such as bluebird and wood duck nest boxes.