Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Physical Description

Raccoons are small mammals, although bigger than most rodents, they do not often exceed the size of a small to medium size dog. They are often most readily and easily identified by their face mask, which is a black band that crosses their face over their eyes, giving them their famed bandit look. Down from their face mask the raccoon has a dark nose pad that is clearly noticeable with the prominent ears and white patches of fur that surround the face and a grey coat. The coat of a raccoon is like a grizzly bear coat, by having the guard hairs tipped with grey, giving the animal a grizzled appearance. Raccoons are also identifiable from the rear by having a bushy tail that has 4-7 black rings. Raccoons also have digits that are very agile, almost finger like, that allow them to manipulate objects with a greater amount of ease.   

Range/Habitat

 Raccoons are found the United States, and in all the southern regions of Canada, it was introduced into Alaska and Europe as a fur resource. They have a continuing range expansion as they are very well suited to urban environments. British Columbia has the lowest occurrence of raccoons in Canada. British Columbia’s raccoon populations are found all over Vancouver Island, and Haida Gwaii, whereas the interior has only seen raccoons as far as Little Fort British Columbia.

The raccoon is not well adapted to the cold temperature and deep snow that the interior sees, making Vancouver Island very optimal for them. When not in cities, raccoons are often found near water bodies and water ways for food gathering. They are accustomed to living in forested areas with den sites. Den sites like tree hollows are used for maternal reasons, protection from predators during the day, and resting. Land clearing operations have seen a decline in raccoon populations in areas when they are utilizing tree hollows when the land is cleared; although, raccoons are very fond of using man-made structures as den sites, like old barns and constructions sites.

 

Diet

            The diet of a raccoon is very opportunistic and omnivorous, which allows the animal a very wide range of food consumption from garbage to wild nuts and berries. When hunting the raccoons usually eats small species. Many coastal areas find that crabs are the primary food source for raccoons, and inland they are a primary predator many amphibians and waterfowl nests. Raccoons are nocturnal, foraging for food at night, often the foraging leads to people garbage cans in the middle of the night. Raccoons use their sense of smell, sight and hearing to find food, but the sense they use the most is touch. With their dexterous hands, they can feel food underneath rocks in the intertidal zone.

 

Human Interactions

 Raccoons used to be eaten by aboriginal peoples and European explorers, the crew of Christopher Columbus had raccoon as a staple in their diet. Southern United State families sometimes used raccoon as an affordable alternative for food, hunting raccoons at nights with hounds is still sometimes practiced for traditions sake. Raccoon fat was a valuable leather softener, but they were primarily hunted for their fur, as it was a popular trade in Europe. The 50’s and 60’s were a popular time for coonskin hats.

Raccoons today are encountering people because of their high abundance in cities: like Nanaimo. Raccoons reproduce at a high rate, leaving their population densities at approximately 238 raccoons per square kilometer. These high population numbers can cause a nuisance for people as raccoons tear into garbage in the middle of the night and they are also troublesome for corn farmers, because they can eat a high amount of corn, but rarely finish eating an ear of corn before moving onto the next one.

References

Hatler DF, Nagorsen DW, Beal AM. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. British Columbia. Royal BC Museum. 407 p.

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