Due to the fact that a Raccoon has a black mask covering its eyes, it has been perpetually typecast as a bandit.
Due to the fact that its rascally habits its role is pretty near correct. If he could be taught better manners or had a more discerning agent, he might snag parts depicting Zorro or the Lone Ranger. That isn’t likely.
The nocturnal Procyon lotor, their scientific name, means one who washes, a habit instilled in them from eons past. It has become a well-known fact that a Raccoon prefers to wash its catch in water before eating it. If no water is nearby it eats it anyway. That’s why they prefer marshy wetlands or even a rivulet in their neighborhood. Nothing is known about why they developed that habit other than that the water gives their fingers an added sensitivity that enhances the flavor to make the food taste better. In Germany where the Raccoon was imported, it is named the wasch-bar, the wash bear.
The Raccoon is a voracious eater ... Eat, eat, eat on its nightly rounds to build up fat for its winter holing up. It does not hibernate as a bear does but it nests up for long periods of time. When the temperature rises above freezing, 320, it will come out to wander, although there is no food to begot. It is an omnivore.
It eats practically anything, animal or vegetable, preferring 75% vegetable if given a choice, 25% animal ... Frogs, tadpoles, small fish, mice, insects (all sorts), nuts, grapes, cherries, apples, turtle, hen or bird eggs; but especially it craves sweet corn ... Nibble a few rows, toss it aside and find a new ear to husk for a few bites ... It may not finish any of the delicious sweet corn but search for a better sample. It can destroy lots of a thickly planted corn field. In marshes it may plunder half of the waterfowl nests of its eggs or young, according to conservation officers ... Raccoons also have a sweet tooth.
A coon will average in length about thirty inches from nose to tip of tail and weigh in at maybe fifteen pounds. That doesn’t come near the record Raccoon shot in Wisconsin in 1950 which measured fifty-five inches long and weighed in at sixty-two pounds. That’s a lot of fat build up.
It can store up to fifty percent of its body weight in fat and it’ll be used up after a long winter when there is no foraging to be had. Or snacks.
Besides the noticeable black mask, the ringed tail is another identification feature ... five to seven black rings around the tail; blackish, grayish, brownish fur on the body. It is the only one of its kind in the Northwest of Illinois’ backyard visitors.
Raccoons can be found in every one of the forty-eight contiguous states, Canada and Mexico. There is a creature in Mexico, extreme southwest New Mexico and a corner of Arizona where too there is an animal called the coati (Nasua nasua). It travels in gangs of about a dozen. Its tail is as long as its body and the tail is ringed like the Raccoon, though it is smaller overall. Its coat is a “grizzled” brown and has white spots above and below its eyes and has a white snout.
The Ring tail Cat is similar in looks to the Raccoon, as close as you’ll find in the wild. It is also called the Bassaris, Cacomixtle, Coon Cat or Civet Cat though it is not a cat either, even remotely. The resemblance to a Raccoon is merely that it has a ringed tail. It is found in the Southwest U.S. It, like the Raccoon, can become a pet. The Raccoon, however, is about the only wild thing that can be tamed, then turned into the wild and survive without trouble. They are pretty adaptable and ingenious. But remember, they are a wild thing.
Raccoon pelts are still sought today as they’ve been for centuries for useful or fashionable wearing apparel ... Hats and coats. The price fluctuates as well as what’s in fashion. ‘Member those coonskin caps with the dangling ringed tail hanging over the shoulder some years back when “Daniel Boone” appeared on TV? Had to have!
The word for downtime for bears is hibernation but the Raccoon’s is merely a nesting up period; torpid was the word used in regard to it. It uses a hollow in a tree (most welcome) or even a woodchuck’s underground den where Chuck may be burrowed in an offshoot ell neither knowing or caring if there is a sub-let in his apartment. Raccoon cubs are born in this winter den.
Birth is in April or May. If too late in the season they rarely survive the first year. There may be three to seven babies but the average is four. As they arrive Mother Raccoon chews up the birth sac and the placenta and will lick, lick, lick baby dry to leave no odor for some predator to sniff out. She also licks up the choronic fluids from its nose and mouth to stimulate its breathing. Baby is about four inches long and weighs two to three ounces. Eyes and ears are sealed. They have a “film” of fur over their bodies and the black mask and ringed tail are barely distinguishable. They huddle together in the nest and mostly sleep. They may whimper if they are hungry and mom isn’t there to feed them. She gets out for a break in the routine or hunts for a little food for herself.
The Raccoon actually has a changeable vocabulary ... Squeal, scream, cry or churrrrr contentedly according to mood. They may be hard curring while they feed at your bird feeder as they happily steal the seed and suet, bandits that they are.
They are talented climbers. Few garbage can covers or bird feeders are beyond their ability to raid. Their dexterous five fingers can open jars, bottles and perhaps the refrigerator door after breaking into the house. There is no opposable thumb but still they go ‘way beyond where you think they might not be able to.’
Raccoons and bears resemble one another in their slow, lumbering gait because they are plantigrades, meaning they walk with their entire foot flat against the ground not just their toes such as a cat or dog, a digitigrade! The footprint of a baby coon resembles that of a human baby with the toes making prints with the sole.
At one month the Raccoon cub weighs about two pounds. Mother can still move them around by the scruff of their necks. At seven weeks they can run a little bit and climb something easy. At ten weeks they are following Mother close behind or hitching a ride on her back. By sixteen weeks they have been weaned and are able to catch a crayfish or tadpole or forage in garbage can at Mother’s instruction.
The Raccoon’s range is as a big as twelve acres or two miles in distance from the home address. They are reasonably friendly with other raccoon families but will fight fiercely, tenaciously any of their enemies such as bobcats, mountain lions, wolves or coyotes ... All large enough to overpower it. But not without tooth and claw defending itself or family.
Man is the Raccoon’s worst enemy, however. Urbanization has destroyed much of the wild things’ habitat. Man also still traps/hunts the raccoon for sport or pelt.
Hunting/tracking dogs are still used in many parts of the country to capture the wily Raccoon. Legend has it that if chased into a river or pond by dogs that may follow it, it will circle around behind a tracking dog, mount its back and push on its head to drown it. That’s only one story in regard to the intelligent coon!
In some places the Raccoon may be used for its meat though reference states that “it is an acquired taste.” Talented rural chefs could make it tasteful, don’t you think?
By summer’s end the Raccoon cub is on its own because Mother has another litter to prepare for. The cycle of Nature is eternal, hopefully.
The life span of a wild Raccoon is thought to be about six years. In captivity they may survive as long as ten to fourteen years. And still the curious rascal is ever the masked bandit. Not even modern society has transformed the little bandit into a hero-type or to a face blackened pro football athlete to satisfy the desires of a television watcher.