Raccoons may be one of the most inquisitive of all mammal species. From rummaging through your garbage cans for food to finding their way into the interior of your home, Nature’s little bandit will not be distracted from finding out where you are hiding the best goodies and warmest shelter. They spend most of their time in the shadows, coming out normally only at night, but is not totally uncommon to see them during the day.
They are awake throughout the year although when it gets cold enough they might take a mini winters nap and sleep for a few weeks straight. It is during these times that the raccoon lives off that 50% body fat!
Families are very important to the raccoon and unlike many wild animals the family group will remain together as a unit for the first year of the newborn’s life; although dad may venture off when the kids reach the three (3) month mark. Females will gestate for about 64 days before giving birth, in general, to four (4) babies, but that number can range from three (3) to seven (7) young at once. The babies make their way into the world during the months of April or May of each year for the most part, but litters arriving before or after this time period occur often; especially for the southern ranges where breeding occurs later in the season. A female raccoon is able to reproduce before her first birthday! Needless to say, populations of raccoon can be quite high.
Born blind and weighing less than two (2) ounces the babies need mom and dad around as long as they can. The newborn’s eyes will open after about three (3) weeks of age and they will begin to eat food at just over two (2) months. Raccoons normally live to five (5) years in the wild.
Don’t let that shuffling, wobbly walk fool you, raccoons are great all around athletes. The shuffle may look cumbersome, but they can run that fluffy body at a speed of up to fifteen (15) miles per hour. They are great climbers and can fall 35 feet without being harmed. When it comes to swimming they may not be the first to jump in, (their fur is not waterproof and absorbs the water adding a lot of weight to move through the water) but if they do get into the water they are considered strong swimmers.
Raccoons have excellent hearing and night vision but do occasionally fall prey to the predators including bobcats, coyotes, wolves, hawks and owls. Make no mistake, raccoons aren’t pushovers and do attack if cornered. Be especially weary of a mother with babies.
Raccoon Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem
As can be expected with any animal that lives in close association with humans raccoons have some activities that are less desirable to us than themselves. Their choice of residence is often one of them. Anyone who has found that a raccoon, or worse, a family of raccoons have moved in can tell you of the damage that they can cause on entry and the feces they will leave in an attic or crawlspace!
Raccoons are one of the four (4) wild animals in the United States described as a primary carrier of the rabies virus. Another disease spread by raccoons includes roundworm, which is spread by the inhalation of roundworm eggs from raccoon feces. Leptospirosis is yet another disease spread to humans by raccoons but normally only affects people working closely with the animals such as animal control persons.
In the wild they can spread Aleutians disease to other animals including the minks which poses a particular problem for mink farmers.
Raccoons are still hunted for their fur as some furriers make imitation mink and otter clothes out of the fur of the raccoon.