Raccoons are familiar animals with masked faces and ringed tails. They have five toes on both the front and hind feet. Their long, dexterous fingers enable them to open latches, untie knots, turn doorknobs, and open jars. Their prints look like tiny human baby handprints and footprints.
They are primarily nocturnal and thrive in many cities as well as wilderness areas. In fact, the densest population of raccoons in New York is in New York City. They are very intelligent and adaptable animals. The home range of an adult male is about one mile in diameter, although it expands in size during the breeding season, and have been known to travel up to ten miles. Adult females and their young inhabit smaller areas and one male’s home range often overlaps several females’ home ranges. Adult males tend to be solitary, but family groups are quite social and will feed and den together into the fall. As family units grow, raccoons become increasingly solitary. The young leave the area where they are born between the fall and spring of their first year and may travel 75 miles or more before settling in a new location.
They are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods, including frogs, fish, amphibians, shellfish, insects, birds, eggs, mice, carrion, berries, nuts, vegetation, salamanders, insects, berries, corn, cat food, and human garbage.
Their tracks are commonly found near water. Where you find water, you find mud, which is an excellent medium for studying tracks. The hind feet in the picture on the left sunk deeper into the mud due to the heavier hind end of the raccoonï¿½s body. It is widely believed that raccoons always “wash” their food. This is not true. They exhibit a behavior called “dabbling” in which they dunk their food in water. This helps enhance their sense of touch and helps them find food underwater by feeling with their sensitive fingers. It also enables them to sort out items that are not edible.
During cold weather, raccoons will sleep for several days, but do not hibernate.
Raccoon scat is tubular and blunt on the ends. Scat may contain parasites that can get into human lungs, so handling it is not advisable.
Three to six young are born in a hollow tree den in April or May. Their eyes open at three weeks. They remain in the den for two months. Young stay with the mother until the following spring.
Raccoons are well known for their curiosity and mischievousness.