Recently, I saw a really cute meme. It showed a photo of a raccoon, and said that it should be the mascot for the Covid pandemic. They compulsively wash their hands, and always wear a mask. This prompted me to revisit these little critters.
Perhaps it’s my imagination, but there seems to be an extraordinarily large number of dead raccoons along the roads this summer. The recent decline in hunting and trapping seems to have resulted in an overabundance of these critters. When I see one, I can almost hear the bawl of a Bluetick or a Black and Tan hound, in the flickering beam of a carbide light on a crisp Autumn night. Rather than the hunting aspect, however, I thought it might be interesting to take a little look at the raccoon itself. With their Lone Ranger mask and ringed tail, they are one of the easiest of all animals to recognize.
Raccoons are common throughout most of the United States. They are nocturnal and often solitary except when mating or caring for young. The male, often referred to as a boar, often travels long distances in search of a mate. While a female will accept only one mate each year, the male does not share her sense of fidelity. He stays with one mate for about a week, then moves on in search of another. In the north, February is the usual mating time. In the spring, a litter of one to seven young, known as kittens, just like a cat, is born. At birth they each weigh about two ounces. By summer’s end, they are weaned and able to function on their own, but the mother sometimes has to drive them away.
Although primarily considered to be forest creatures, raccoons can do very well in areas occupied by humans. They love to visit garbage cans at homes and campgrounds, and won’t hesitate to raid your cooler chest or other food storage containers. The nickname of “masked bandit” is really fitting. The animal’s front paws are somewhat similar to human hands, and they have a lot of manual dexterity. This allows them to open a lot of containers with relative ease.
The raccoon is omnivorous, consuming a wide variety of plant and animal matter. Among its foods are grapes, nuts, insects, mice, eggs and baby birds. On several occasions, in the late evening, I’ve seen raccoons fishing for crayfish along the shores of lakes. This is really fun to watch. “People food,” of course, ranks high on their menu as well.
Raccoons are famous for their habit of washing their food before eating it. There are a couple of well known falsehoods regarding this behavior. One is that the animals strive for cleanliness in their eating habits. Still another is that they must wet their food in order to be able to swallow it. In actual fact, the wetting of the paws enhances the critter’s sense of touch, making it easier for it to detect matter which should be rejected as food. If no water is available, they simply skip it. In fact, a couple of raccoons make a habit of eating the dry food we put out for our cat at night. We’ve caught them in the act a couple of times.
Over a period of time, the raccoon will sometimes lose a lot of its fear of humans. This, coupled with their cute and cuddly appearance, makes it tempting to try to pick it up and/or pet them, particularly if it is a baby. This should never, under any circumstances, be done. Despite their appearance, these animals can be vicious, especially if they perceive a threat to themselves or their young. In addition, rabies has been a problem in this state for a number of years now, and raccoons are one of the most notorious carriers of this horrible disease. Enjoy watching them, but don’t touch ‘em.