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Brainy Bandits

Everyone knows raccoons — these little bandits are familiar to forests (their original habitats), marshes, prairies, neighborhoods, and even cities. In addition to the northern or North American raccoon, which is native to North America, there are six other species of raccoons, most of which live in the tropics.

A brave raccoon at the Barnacle Historic State Park in Miami, accustomed to the city folk…

Diet and Habitat

This highly adaptable and nocturnal mammal feasts on a variety of fare, but in their natural environment they mainly hunt near water. They use their paws and claws to grab frogs and other aquatic critters, while on land they eat mice, insects, and steal eggs. They also rely on fruit and plants, and of course…human leftovers! In the north, raccoons will gorge themselves in the spring and summer to store up body fat for the colder months ahead.

A raccoon’s most important sense is that of touch; most of the animal’s senses are in the tactile impulses of these “hyper sensitive” front paws.

…and the treats they leave behind! An opportunistic pasta feast for this raccoon family.

During the winter, they spend much time asleep in their dens — a tree hole, fallen log, or crawl/attic space. Raccoons rely on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened, so it’s rare to see them in the open. In the early summer, females may have up to seven cubs, which spend their first two months in the den. However, it’s usual for only half of the young to survive a full first year. But if they survive, they begin exploring the world with their mother….

Behavior

While these animals were originally considered solitary creatures, there is increased evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behavior. Related females will share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to protect against foreign males (and predators) during the mating season.

The increased presence of raccoons in populated areas has resulted in diverse reactions among humans — but the truth remains, serious attacks on humans or pets by non-rabid raccoons are extremely rare, and are almost always the result of the raccoon feeling threatened, or protecting its young.

Nom nom nom.

Mythology

The raccoon was a prominent figure in the mythology of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Tuscarora told stories of its skills at foraging; while in other tales, the raccoon was the trickster which outsmarted other animals — even coyotes and wolves. The Dakota Sioux believed the raccoon had spirit powers, since its mask resembled the black-and-white facial paintings used during their rituals to connect to spirit beings. The Aztecs linked the raccoon’s supernatural abilities especially to the females, whose commitment to their young was associated with the role of wise women in their society.

Petroglyphs depicting raccoons span across the continental United States: engraved raccoon tracks have been found in Lewis Canyon, Texas; at the Crow Hollow petroglyph site in Grayson County, Kentucky; and in river drainages near Tularosa, New Mexico and in San Francisco, California. A detailed quartz figurine — the Ohio Mound Builders’ Stone Pipe — was found near the Scioto River. The meaning of Raccoon Priests Gorget, featuring a stylized carving of a raccoon found at the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, remains unknown.

Fun Facts:

Raccoons are little smarties! Highly intelligent, studies from the ’60s to today show that they can remember the solutions to tasks — as well as differentiate between symbols — for up to three years. (Longer than me.) Raccoons have also been tested on opening complex locks with great success.

The word “raccoon” comes from the native Powhatan term. It was originally recorded in the Virginia Colony, on Captain John Smith’s list of Powhatan words as aroughcun, and in the records of William Strachey as arathkone. It also hails from the Proto-Algonquian root *ahrah-koon-em, meaning “[the] one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands.”

Spanish colonists adopted the Spanish word mapache from the Aztecs — Nahuatl mapachitli, meaning “[the] one who takes everything in its hands.” In many languages, from German to Italian, the raccoon is named for its characteristic dousing behavior, in addition to that language’s term for bear.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. Pam #

    I love raccoons, and their little “hands” are always busy touching things! I watched mama raccoon with her 2 new babies last night. One of my favorite animal books of all time is called “Frosty: A Raccoon to Remember” by Harriet Weaver (1974). It is available on amazon – I highly recommend it!

    August 3, 2012
    • Aw, I have to check out that title — thanks!! I adore raccoons… We’ve had a few orphaned babies find their ways to our home, which is good — so many cars out there. It’s safe till they grow up, and can survive on their own. One would constantly try climbing my legs, despite our best efforts to IGNORE them. GAAA they’re adorable. Except eating all the eggs out of our birds’ nests, of course…

      August 3, 2012
      • Pam #

        Mine come around to eat the birdseed that falls on the ground. I look out the window with a flashlight at night It’s really cute when the opossum joins them, and sometimes even bunny! Our area is rural, so we have lots of critters.

        August 3, 2012
      • omigosh i LOVE opossum! we recently saved a baby that was traumatized, confused, and a bit bloodied in the middle of a nearby 6-lane road. after a brief struggle he snuggled into my guy’s chest (we always carry around towels for this reason). we got him to our local wildlife care facility (SPCA), and they adore opossum there! you’re so lucky to live in a rural area, to see them and not have to worry about this — we’re trying….

        August 3, 2012
      • Pam #

        I’m so glad you saved the little guy! I think they are adorable! We all do what we can. 🙂

        August 3, 2012
      • ♥✿♥!

        August 4, 2012
  2. Yes! One of my favorite writers, Janwillem van der Wettering, writes about a “washbear.” Dutch. And as for diet, these little guys also love the cat kibble a friend of mine leaves out for the community cats. The coons are so bold, they march right up on the deck, right next to the sliding window, and chow down in broad daylight. Smiling at you, SerenitySpell, for your wonderful pictures and info on this magnificent world we live in, as ever!

    August 3, 2012
    • Washbear….very interesting tie in!

      August 3, 2012
      • It’s interesting to see how the similar naming traditions spread throughout the world (dousing + bear)!

        August 3, 2012
    • Washbear! Goes right in with their naming history — dousing + bear! So fascinating.

      Ah yes! We’ve had our share of raccoons, too! A few orphaned babies found their ways to our place — which I was happy about, for their safety. One constantly tried to climb my always-booted legs, despite our best efforts at ignoring them (for their safety again), haha! He would come to the window and paw at it… And of course, eat alongside the stray kitties I feed! Once when I was helping TNR a pregnant momma kitty, he came right under the drop trap with several of us sitting there. Really, little one?

      Thanks so much for your kind words… That is truly the BEST compliment I could ever hope for! ♥

      August 3, 2012
  3. They look so sweet! I know they are considered pests in some places… but awwww! Can I have one? Pleeease?

    August 3, 2012
    • Heeee!! It’s so strange to me, how we call wildlife “pests” — I know that’s how many people perceive these animals. But I read a really interesting article about the increased presence of certain critters in urban areas (ie, the ones who can survive), and to me, that shows intelligence, adaptability…survival.

      Humans have been “pests” on this planet for some time, LOL.

      August 3, 2012
      • Oh yes, we are indeed pests! I have never seen a racoon…. I need to remedy this methinks 🙂 x

        August 4, 2012
      • Come to the US! We have plenty of these wily and adorable rascals. 🙂

        August 4, 2012
      • I definitely do need to visit the US, and in fact any and all of that land mass! 🙂 x

        August 4, 2012
  4. J. #

    I have to admit, I’ve only had bad experiences with raccoons. 🙂 Those guys are sneaky and tenacious! Still, I’ve always thought they were beautiful in their own way, and you’ve just made me feel a little more grudging respect for their smarts. 🙂

    August 3, 2012
    • Sneaky + tenacious = smarties! I swear, they can probably attack more complicated locks than I can — and remember stuff longer. I kid you not.

      I respect them for their survival instincts; we’ve had orphaned babies find their ways here and do a bit of imprinting (or they thought I was a tree). I know more human pests than raccoon pests, honestly… heh!! ♥

      August 3, 2012
  5. VERY interesting article!! I enjoyed it a lot! At Wakodahatchee I saw a racoon run up to the top of that little bird house on a pole…you know on the back side of the boardwalk….and snatch birds out of it. It all happened pretty fast, I could see the racoon feasting on the bird, backlit wings and all!!

    August 3, 2012
    • Whaaaaa? On the birds themselves? I’ve NEVER seen that! On eggs, OFTEN! Our orphaned raccoon (well, he’s now grown up and moved out) obliterated all our nests — the birds like our house. 🙂 But never birds! WOW! Our little orphan would try to climb my legs, paw at the window — and we did our best to ignore him, not desiring to train wildlife (I didn’t want him doing that to others).

      I love ’em. Just love them… Glad you enjoyed the little tidbits, hee! (THREE YEARS memory! Seriously!)

      August 3, 2012
  6. I don’t like raccoons but you made them adorable… really nice pics 🙂

    August 3, 2012
    • Aw, I’m so glad! What’s not to love? Those faces! (We had one or two orphaned raccoons who grew up at our place, till they were ready to leave on their own — THAT would make you change your mind!)

      August 3, 2012
  7. I learned something new as I usually do from your posts FeyGirl. I’ve always enjoyed raccoons’ mischievous behavior and their obvious intelligence. We have them in our area but have yet to find them on our property.

    August 3, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I love our raccoons… We had an orphaned one hanging out at our house (well, go figure — I feed the stray kitties!). He grew up here, it was a safe zone for him — and would come dangerously (yet adorably) close to climbing my always-booted legs. Eventually he left us for another raccoon, sigh. 🙂

      August 3, 2012
  8. narhvalur #

    Reblogged this on Ann Novek–With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors.

    August 3, 2012
    • Thanks so much for sharing our handsome Southern raccoon! 🙂

      August 3, 2012
  9. Is that you Roger Racoon on those pics? Roger if it is, hello from Monkey and Millie. Hope you’re well, its been a while. Your pictures are lovely and you look great. Enjoyed reading your blog post.

    August 3, 2012
    • ♥ Heh! I love it… Thanks so much for visiting with our handsome southern raccoon!

      August 3, 2012
  10. sandy #

    Thanks for all the information! We see them occasionally here in southern Maine. I am, however, very familiar with them from living in Oklahoma.

    August 4, 2012
    • Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed! We have many raccoons here; and as smart and pesky as they can be, I thoroughly appreciate them. As with all wildlife, if they had more of their own space…

      August 4, 2012
  11. Interesting critters. I live away from town and get to see one only occasionally. My son lives in a city about 80 miles away and has several living in a storm drain right nearby.

    August 4, 2012
    • Isn’t that fascinating? You live in a more rural area, and only see them occasionally… And he sees them more often, in a city environment? Some animals have adapted surprisingly well to human habitats — and these guys are shockingly intelligent.

      August 5, 2012
  12. One of my favorite ways to kill some time is to search YouTube for videos of raccoons doing various things. I find them adorable in spite of their knack for turning a garden into a smorgasbord. Interesting facts about their interactions with the Native Americans. Thanks for sharing.

    August 5, 2012
    • Hahahah! Oh that’s awesome… And your description of them turning gardens into smorgasbords! Now I must search, myself. I love them! I knew vaguely of the Native American links, but not those specific references, so I learned something as well — I’m glad you enjoyed too. 🙂

      We’ve had a few orphaned raccoons find their ways to our home, since we feed stray kitties — and as much as I try to ignore the wildlife, a few have been VERY friendly (or imprinted). One tried to consistently climb my always-booted leg… So funny.

      August 5, 2012
  13. Val #

    I’d love to see a raccoon. To my knowledge we don’t have them in the UK. Love your photos of them, they look so sweet. Unless you’re something they eat, of course! 😉

    August 5, 2012
    • It’s always so interesting how such a common North American critter is foreign to others (and vice-versa, for that matter)… But they ARE adorable — and highly intelligent! It’s amazing, their skills… Three years’ of memory recall! (More than me, hahah!)

      We’ve had a few orphaned raccoons find their way to our home — since we feed stray kitties, they partake in the kibble and stay here till they’re old enough to make their ways on their own. And as much as I ignore the wildlife, I had one consistently try to climb my always-booted leg. It was hysterical. They’re very sweet critters; sometimes people discriminate against them b/c they can contract rabies — SOME.

      August 5, 2012
      • Val #

        There’s a similar prejudice here with badgers that some people think spread TB to cattle! (How, I’ve never been able to understand!)

        August 5, 2012
      • Hah! Seriously! Badgers —> Cattle. I’d like to see that transfer. Badgers are lovely, too… Not common to our area!

        August 6, 2012
  14. I don’t know raccoons, we don’t have anything like them in Norway, but they seem interesting, and cute..

    August 5, 2012
    • It’s so interesting how such a common North American critter is foreign to others (and vice-versa)… But they ARE truly adorable — and highly intelligent! It’s amazing, their skills… Three years’ of memory recall! (More than me, hahah!)

      August 5, 2012
  15. You have so many great photos on your blog! I have to admit, I’m envious of some of the wildlife you have access to! Especially the reptiles and amphibians!

    EC
    http://www.macrocritters.wordpress.com

    August 6, 2012
    • Thanks so much for your kind words!

      I find it so interesting how such a common North American critter is foreign to others (and vice-versa)… But they ARE truly adorable — and highly intelligent! It’s amazing, their skills… Three years’ of memory recall! (More than me, hahah!) And we definitely have our share of reptiles + amphibians, here near the Everglades…

      August 6, 2012
  16. marialla #

    MMMM – QUITE THE CHARACTER – THIS LITTLE BANDIT, ISN’T HE??? THANK YOU !!!

    August 6, 2012
    • They’re adorable — and little smarties, aren’t they? ♥

      August 6, 2012
  17. Taking it into your hands… connecting to the spirit of feminine wisdom and nurturance. Good medicine. I’ve always thought them beautiful and fierce. How fitting.

    Enjoyed this post very much. Great shots!

    August 14, 2012
    • Very well said!! Beautiful and fierce, very true — and oh-so-nurturing… Seeing them protect their young in the wild, is heartwrenching. They’re SO incredibly protective.

      Thanks so much! ♥

      August 14, 2012

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