GALLERIES > MAMMALS > RACCOON [Procyon lotor]
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Location: Magee Marsh (Crane Creek), OHGPS: 41.6W, -83.2N MAP
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Location: Magee Marsh (Crane Creek), OHGPS: 41.6W, -83.2N MAP
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The raccoon (Procyon lotor), sometimes spelled as racoon, and also known as the common raccoon, North American raccoon, northern raccoon and colloquially as coon, is a medium-sized mammal native to North America. As a result of escapes and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century, raccoons are now also distributed across the European mainland, the Caucasus region and Japan. Their original habitats are deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and even urban areas, where some homeowners consider them pests.
With a body length of 41 to 72 cm (16.1–28.0 in) and a weight of 3.6 to 9.0 kg (7.9–19.8 lb), the raccoon is the largest procyonid. The dense underfur, which insulates against cold weather, accounts for almost 90% of its grayish coat. Two of the most distinctive features of the raccoon are its extremely sensitive front paws and facial mask, which are also themes in the mythology of several Native American tribes. Studies have shown that raccoons are able to remember the solution to tasks up to three years later. Raccoons are omnivorous and usually nocturnal, and their diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant foods and 27% vertebrates. Captive raccoons sometimes douse their food before eating it, which is most likely a vacuum activity imitating foraging at shores.
Though previously thought to be solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behaviors. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season and other potential invaders. Home range sizes vary anywhere from 0.03 km2 (0.01 sq mi or 7.4 acres) for females in cities to 49.5 km2 (19.1 sq mi) for males in prairies. After a gestation period of about 65 days, two to five young are born in spring. The kits are subsequently raised by their mother until dispersion in late fall. Although captive raccoons have been known to live over 20 years, their average life expectancy in the wild is only 1.8 to 3.1 years. Hunting and traffic accidents are the two most common causes of death in many areas.
The word raccoon is derived from the Algonquin word ahrah-koon-em—other transcriptions exist—which was the pronunciation used by Chief Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas, meaning "[the] one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands". Similarly, Spanish colonists adopted the Spanish word mapache from the Nahuatl word mapachitli of the Aztecs, meaning "[the] one who takes everything in its hands". In many languages, the raccoon is named for its characteristic dousing behavior in conjunction with that language's term for bear, for example Waschbär in German, orsetto lavatore in Italian and araiguma (?????) in Japanese. The colloquial abbreviation coon is used in words like coonskin for fur clothing and in phrases like old coon as a self-designation of trappers. However, the clipped form is also in use as an ethnic slur.
In the first decades after its discovery by the members of the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who was the first person to leave a written record about the species, taxonomists thought the raccoon was related to many different species, including dogs, cats, badgers and particularly bears. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, placed the raccoon in the genus Ursus, first as Ursus cauda elongata ("long-tailed bear") in the second edition of his Systema Naturae, then as Ursus Lotor ("washer bear") in the tenth edition. In 1780, Gottlieb Conrad Christian Storr placed the raccoon in its own genus Procyon, which can be translated either to "before the dog" or "doglike". It is also possible that Storr had its nocturnal lifestyle in mind and chose the star Procyon as eponym for the species.
Based on fossil evidence from France and Germany, the first known members of the family Procyonidae lived in Europe in the late Oligocene about 25 million years ago. Similar tooth and skull structures suggest that procyonids and weasels share a common ancestor, but molecular analysis indicates a closer relationship between raccoons and bears. After crossing the Bering Strait at least six million years later, the center of the then-existing species' distribution was probably in Central America. Coatis (Nasua and Nasuella) and raccoons (Procyon) may both be descended from a species in the genus Paranasua from between 5.2 and 6.0 mya. This assumption, based on morphological comparisons of fossils, conflicts with a 2006 genetic analysis which suggests that raccoons are more closely related to ringtails. Unlike other procyonids, such as the crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus), the ancestors of the common raccoon left tropical and subtropical areas and migrated farther north about 2.5 mya, a migration that has been confirmed by the discovery of fossils in the Great Plains dating back to the middle of the Pliocene.
Five species of raccoon found only on small Central American and Caribbean islands were often regarded as distinct species after their discovery. In particular, these are the Bahaman raccoon and Guadeloupe raccoon, which are very similar to each other, the Tres Marias raccoon, which is larger than average and has an angular skull, the Cozumel raccoon, which weighs only 3 to 4 kg (6.6–8.8 lb) and has notably small teeth, and the extinct Barbados raccoon. Studies of their morphological and genetic traits in 1999, 2003 and 2005, led all island raccoons, including the Barbados raccoon, but not the Cozumel raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus), to be listed as subspecies of the common raccoon in the third edition of Mammal Species of the World (2005).
The four smallest subspecies with an average weight of 1.8 to 2.7 kg (4.0-6.0 lb) are found along the southern coast of Florida and on the adjacent islands, such as the Ten Thousand Island raccoon (Procyon lotor marinus). Most of the other 15 subspecies differ only slightly from each other in coat color, size and other physical characteristics. The two most widespread subspecies are the Eastern raccoon (Procyon lotor lotor) and the Upper Mississippi Valley raccoon (Procyon lotor hirtus). Both share a comparatively dark coat with long hairs, but the Upper Mississippi Valley raccoon is larger than the Eastern raccoon. The Eastern raccoon occurs in all U. S. states and Canadian provinces to the north of South Carolina and Tennessee. The adjacent range of the Upper Mississippi Valley raccoon covers all U. S. states and Canadian provinces to the north of Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico.
Head to hindquarters, raccoons measure between 41 and 71 cm (16.1–28.0 in), not including the bushy tail which can measure between 19.2 and 40.5 cm (7.6–15.9 in), but is usually not much longer than 25 cm (9.8 in). The shoulder height is between 22.8 and 30.4 cm (9.0–12.0 in). The body weight of an adult raccoon varies considerably with habitat; it can range from 1.8 to 13.6 kg (4.0–30.0 lb), but is usually between 3.6 and 9.0 kg (7.9–19.8 lb). The smallest specimens are found in Southern Florida, while those near the northern limits of the raccoon's range tend to be the largest (see Bergmann's Rule). Males are usually 15 to 20% heavier than females. At the beginning of winter, a raccoon can weigh twice as much as in spring due to its fat storage. The heaviest recorded wild raccoon weighed 28.4 kg (62.6 lb), by far the largest weight recorded for a procyonid.
The most characteristic physical feature of the raccoon is the area of black fur around the eyes which contrasts sharply with the surrounding white face coloring. This is reminiscent of a "bandit's mask" and has thus enhanced the animal's reputation for mischief. The slightly rounded ears are also bordered by white fur. It is assumed that raccoons recognize the facial expression and posture of other members of their species more quickly due to the conspicuous facial coloration and the alternating light and dark rings on the tail. The dark mask may also reduce glare and thus enhance night vision. On other parts of the body, the long and stiff guard hairs, which shed moisture, are usually colored in shades of gray and, to a lesser extent, brown. Raccoons with a very dark coat are more common in the German population because individuals with such coloring were among those initially released to the wild. The dense underfur, which accounts for almost 90% of the coat, insulates against cold weather and is composed of 2.0 to 3.0 cm (0.8–1.2 in) long hairs.
The raccoon, whose method of locomotion is usually considered to be plantigrade, can stand on its hind legs to examine objects with its front paws. As raccoons have short legs compared to their compact torso, they are usually not able either to run quickly or jump great distances. Their top speed over short distances is 16 to 24 km/h (10–15 mph). Raccoons can swim with an average speed of about 4.8 km/h (3.0 mph) and can stay in the water for several hours. For climbing down a tree headfirst, an unusual ability for a mammal of its size, a raccoon rotates its hind feet so that they are pointing backwards. Raccoons have a dual cooling system to regulate their temperature; that is they are able to both sweat and pant for heat dissipation. The dentition—40 teeth with the dental formula 3142/3142—is adapted to their omnivorous lifestyle: the carnassials are not as sharp and pointed as those of a carnivore, but the molars are not as wide as those of a herbivore. The penis bone of males is about 10 cm (3.9 in) long and strongly bent at the front end and is often used by biologists to classify reproductive status of specimens. Seven of the 13 identified vocal calls are used in communication between the mother and her kits, one of these being the birdlike twittering of newborns.
The most important sense for the raccoon is its sense of touch. The "hyper sensitive" front paws are protected by a thin horny layer which becomes pliable when wet. The five digits of the paws have no webbing between them, which is unusual for a carnivoran. Almost two-thirds of the area responsible for sensory perception in the raccoon's cerebral cortex is specialised for the interpretation of tactile impulses, more than in any other studied animal. They are able to identify objects before touching them with vibrissae located above their sharp, non-retractable claws. The raccoon's paws lack an opposable thumb and thus it does not have the agility of the hands of primates. It is not known why there is no observed negative effect on tactile perception when a raccoon stands in water below 10 °C (50 °F) for hours.
Raccoons are thought to be color-blind or at least poorly able to distinguish color, though their eyes are well-adapted for sensing green light. Although their accommodation of 11 dioptre is comparable to that of humans and they see well in twilight due to the tapetum lucidum behind the retina, visual perception is of subordinate importance to raccoons because of their poor long-distance vision. In addition to being useful for orientation in the dark, their sense of smell is important for intraspecific communication. Glandular secretions (usually from their anal glands), urine and feces are used for marking. With their broad auditory range, they can perceive tones up to 50–85 kHz as well as quiet noises like those produced by earthworms underground.
Only a few studies have been undertaken to determine the mental abilities of raccoons, most of them based on the animal's sense of touch. In a study by the ethologist H. B. Davis in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in less than 10 tries and had no problems repeating the action when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Davis concluded that they understood the abstract principles of the locking mechanisms and that their learning speed was equivalent to that of rhesus macaques. Studies in 1963, 1973, 1975 and 1992 concentrated on raccoon memory and have shown that they can remember the solution to tasks for up to three years. In a study by B. Pohl in 1992, raccoons were able to instantly differentiate between identical and different symbols three years after the short initial learning phase. Stanislas Dehaene reports in his book The Number Sense that raccoons can distinguish boxes containing two or four grapes from those containing three.
Studies in the 1990s by the ethologists Stanley D. Gehrt and Ulf Hohmann indicated that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behaviors and are not typically solitary, as was previously thought. Related females often live in a so-called fission-fusion society, that is, they share a common area and occasionally meet at feeding or resting grounds. Unrelated males often form loose male social groups to maintain their position against foreign males during the mating season or other potential invaders. Such a group does not usually consist of more than four individuals. Since some males show aggressive behavior towards unrelated kits, mothers will isolate themselves from other raccoons until their kits are big enough to defend themselves. With respect to these three different modes of life prevalent among raccoons, Hohmann called their social structure a three class society. Samuel I. Zeveloff, professor of zoology at the Weber State University and author of the book Raccoons: A Natural History, is more cautious in his interpretation and concludes that at least the females are solitary most of the time and, according to Erik K. Fritzell's study in North Dakota in 1978, males in areas with low population densities are as well.
The shape and size of a raccoon's home range varies depending on gender and habitat, with adults claiming areas more than twice as large as juveniles. While the size of home ranges in the inhospitable habitat of North Dakota's prairies lay between 6.7 and 49.5 km2 (2.6–19.1 sq mi) for males and between 2.3 and 16.3 km2 (0.89–6.3 sq mi) for females, the average size in a marsh at Lake Erie was 0.49 km2 (0.19 sq mi or 121 acres). Irrespective of whether the home ranges of adjacent groups overlap or not, they are most likely not actively defended outside the mating season if food supplies are sufficient. It is assumed that odor marks on prominent spots serve the purpose of establishing home ranges and identifying individuals. Urine and feces left at shared latrines may provide additional information about feeding grounds, since it has been observed that raccoons meet there later for collective eating, sleeping and playing.
Concerning the general behavior patterns of raccoons, Gehrt points out that "typically you'll find 10 to 15 percent that will do the opposite" of what is expected.
Though usually nocturnal, the raccoon is sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources. Its diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material and 27% vertebrates. Since its diet consists of such a variety of different foods, Zeveloff argues that the raccoon "may well be one of the world's most omnivorous animals". While its diet in spring and early summer consists mostly of insects, worms and other animals already available early in the year, it prefers fruits and nuts, such as acorns,and walnuts which emerge in late summer and autumn and represent a rich calorie source for building up fat needed for winter. Contrary to popular belief, raccoons eat active or large prey such as birds and mammals only occasionally, since they prefer prey which is easier to catch, specifically fish and amphibians. When food is plentiful, raccoons can develop strong individual preferences for specific foods. In the northern parts of their range, raccoons go into a winter rest, reducing their activity drastically as long as a permanent snow cover makes searching for food impossible.
Raccoons sample food and other objects with their front paws to examine them and to remove unwanted parts. The tactile sensitivity of their paws is increased if this action is performed underwater, since the water softens the horny layer covering the paws. However, the behavior observed in captive raccoons in which they carry their food to a watering hole to "wash" or douse it before eating has not been observed in the wild. Naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788) believed that raccoons do not have adequate saliva production to moisten food, necessitating dousing, but this is certainly incorrect. Captive raccoons douse their food more frequently when a watering hole with a layout similar to a stream is not farther away than 3.0 m (9.8 ft). The widely accepted theory is that dousing is a vacuum activity imitating foraging at shores for aquatic foods. This is supported by the observation that such foods are doused more frequently. Cleaning dirty food does not seem to be a reason for "washing". Experts have cast doubt on the veracity of observations of wild raccoons dousing food.
Raccoons usually mate in a period triggered by increasing daylight between late January and mid-March. However, there are large regional differences which are not completely explicable by solar conditions. For example, while raccoons in southern states typically mate later than average, the mating season in Manitoba also peaks later than usual in March and extends until June. During the mating season, males roam their home ranges in search of females in an attempt to court them during the three-to four-day-long period when conception is possible. These encounters will often occur at central meeting places. Copulation, including foreplay, can last over an hour and is repeated over several nights. It is assumed that the weaker members of a male social group also get the opportunity to mate since the stronger ones cannot mate with all available females. In a study in southern Texas during the mating seasons from 1990 to 1992, about one third of all females mated with more than one male. If a female does not become pregnant or if she loses her kits early, she will sometimes become fertile again 80 to 140 days later.
After roughly 63 to 65 days of gestation (although anywhere from 54 to 70 days is possible), a litter of typically two to five young is born. The average litter size varies widely with habitat, ranging from 2.5 in Alabama to 4.8 in North Dakota. Larger litters are more common in areas with a high mortality rate, due, for example, to hunting or severe winters. While male yearlings usually reach their sexual maturity only after the main mating season, female yearlings can compensate for high mortality rates and may be responsible for about 50% of all young born in a year. Males have no part in raising young. The kits (also called "cubs") are blind and deaf at birth, but their mask is already visible against their light fur. The birth weight of the ca. 9.5 cm (3.7 in) long kits is between 60 and 75 g (2.1–2.6 oz). Their ear canals open after around 18 to 23 days, a few days before their eyes open for the first time. Once the kits weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb), they begin to explore outside the den, consuming solid food for the first time after six to nine weeks. After this point, their mother suckles them with decreasing frequency; they are usually weaned by 16 weeks. In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many females will stay close to the home range of their mother, males can sometimes move more than 20 km (12.4 mi) away. This is considered an instinctive behavior, preventing inbreeding. However, mother and offspring may share a den during the first winter in cold areas.
Captive raccoons have been known to live for more than 20 years. However, the species' life expectancy in the wild is only 1.8 to 3.1 years, depending on the local conditions in terms of traffic volume, hunting, and weather severity. It is not unusual for only half of the young born in one year to survive a full year. After this point, the annual mortality rate drops to between 10 and 30%. Young raccoons are vulnerable to losing their mother and to starvation, particularly in long and cold winters. The most frequent natural cause of death in the North American raccoon population is distemper, which can reach epidemic proportions and kill most of a local raccoon population. In areas with heavy vehicular traffic and extensive hunting, these factors can account for up to 90% of all deaths of adult raccoons.
The most important natural predators of the raccoon are bobcats, coyotes, and great horned owls which mainly prey on the young. However, predation is not a significant cause of death, especially because larger predators have been exterminated in many areas inhabited by raccoons.
Although they have thrived in sparsely wooded areas in the last decades, raccoons depend on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. Therefore, they avoid open terrain and areas with high concentrations of beech trees, as beech bark is too smooth to climb. Tree hollows in old oaks or other trees and rock crevices are preferred by raccoons as sleeping, winter and litter dens. If such dens are unavailable or accessing them is inconvenient, raccoons utilize burrows dug by other mammals, dense undergrowth, or tree crotches. In a study in the German low mountain range Solling, more than 60% of all sleeping places were used only once, but those used at least 10 times accounted for about 70% of all uses. Since amphibians, crustaceans and other animals found around the shore of lakes and rivers are an important part of the raccoon's diet, lowland deciduous or mixed forests abundant with water and marshes sustain the highest population densities. While population densities range from 0.5 to 3.2 animals per square kilometer (1.3–8.3 animals per square mile) in prairies and do not usually exceed six animals per square kilometer (15.5 animals per square mile) in upland hardwood forests, more than 20 raccoons per square kilometer (51.8 animals per square mile) can live in lowland forests and marshes.
Raccoons are common throughout North America from Canada to Panama, where the subspecies P. l. pumilus coexists with the Crab-eating Raccoon (P. cancrivorus). The population on Hispaniola was exterminated as early as 1513 by Spanish colonists who hunted them for their meat. Raccoons were also exterminated in Cuba and Jamaica, where the last sightings were reported in 1687. The Bahaman raccoon (P. l. maynardi), Guadeloupe raccoon (P. l. minor) and Tres Marias Raccoon (P. l. insularis) were classified as endangered by the IUCN in 1996.
There is evidence that in pre-Columbian times raccoons were numerous only along rivers and in the woodlands of the Southeastern United States. As raccoons were not mentioned in earlier reports of pioneers exploring the central and north-central parts of the United States, their initial spread may have begun a few decades before the 20th century. Since the 1950s, raccoons have expanded their range from Vancouver Island—formerly the northernmost limit of their range—far into the northern portions of the four south-central Canadian provinces. New habitats which have recently been occupied by raccoons (aside from urban areas) include mountain ranges such as the Western Rocky Mountains, prairies and coastal marshes. After a population explosion starting in the 1940s, the estimated number of raccoons in North America in the late 1980s was 15 to 20 times higher than in the 1930s when raccoons were comparatively rare. Urbanization, the expansion of agriculture, deliberate introductions and the extermination of natural predators of the raccoon have probably caused this increase in abundance and distribution.
As a result of escapes and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century, the raccoon is now distributed in several European and Asian countries. Sightings have occurred in all the countries bordering Germany, which hosts the largest population outside of North America. Another stable population exists in northern France, where several pet raccoons were released by members of the U.S. Air Force near the Laon-Couvron Air Base in 1966. 1,243 animals were released in nine regions of the former Soviet Union between 1936 and 1958 for the purpose of establishing a population to be hunted for their fur. Two of these introductions were successful: one in the south of Belarus between 1954 and 1958, and another in Azerbaijan between 1941 and 1957. With a seasonal harvest of between 1,000 and 1,500 animals, it was estimated in 1974 that the size of the population distributed in the Caucasus region was around 20,000 animals and the density was four animals per square kilometer (10.4 animals per square mile). In Japan, up to 1,500 raccoons were imported as pets each year after the success of the anime series Rascal the Raccoon (1977). In 2004, the descendants of discarded or escaped animals lived in 42 of 47 prefectures.
Due to its adaptability, the raccoon has been able to use urban areas as a habitat. The first sightings were recorded in a suburb of Cincinnati in the 1920s. Since the 1950s, raccoons have been present in metropolises like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Toronto. Since the 1960s, Kassel has hosted Europe's first and densest population in a large urban area with about 50 to 150 animals per square kilometer (129–388 animals per square mile), a figure comparable to those of urban habitats in North America. Home range sizes of urban raccoons are only 0.03 to 0.38 km2 (0.01–0.15 sq mi or 7.4–93.9 acres) for females and 0.08 to 0.79 km2 (0.03–0.31 sq mi or 19.8–195.2 acres) for males. In small towns and suburbs, many raccoons sleep in a nearby forest after foraging in the settlement area. Fruit and insects in gardens and leftovers in municipal waste are easily available food sources. Furthermore, a large number of additional sleeping areas exist in these areas, such as hollows in old garden trees, cottages, garages, abandoned houses, and attics. The percentage of urban raccoons sleeping in abandoned or occupied houses varies from 15% in Washington, D.C. (1991) to 43% in Kassel (2003).
Raccoons can carry rabies, a lethal disease caused by the neurotropic rabies virus carried in the saliva and transmitted by bites. Its spread began in Florida and Georgia in the 1950s and was facilitated by the introduction of infected individuals to Virginia and North Dakota in the late 1970s. Of the 6,940 documented rabies cases reported in the United States in 2006, 2,615 (37.7%) were in raccoons. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as local authorities in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces, has developed oral vaccination programs to fight the spread of the disease in endangered populations. Only one human fatality has been reported after transmission of the rabies virus from raccoon. Among the main symptoms for rabies in raccoons are a generally sickly appearance, impaired mobility, abnormal vocalization and aggressiveness. There may be no visible signs at all, however, and most individuals do not show the aggressive behavior seen in infected canids; rabid raccoons will often retire to their dens instead. Organizations like the U.S. Forest Service encourage people to stay away from animals with unusual behavior or appearance, and to notify the proper authorities, such as an animal control officer from the local health department. Since healthy animals, especially nursing mothers, will occasionally forage during the day, daylight activity is not a reliable indicator of illness in raccoons.
Unlike rabies and at least a dozen other pathogens carried by raccoons, distemper, an epizootic virus, does not affect humans. This disease is the most frequent natural cause of death in the North American raccoon population and affects individuals of all age groups. For example, 94 of 145 raccoons died during an outbreak in Clifton, Ohio, in 1968. It may occur along with a following inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), causing the animal to display rabies-like symptoms. In Germany, the first eight cases of distemper were reported in 2007.
Some of the most important bacterial diseases which affect raccoons are leptospirosis, listeriosis, tetanus and tularemia. Although internal parasites weaken their immune system, well-fed individuals can carry a great many roundworms in their digestive tract without showing symptoms. The larvae of the Baylisascaris procyonis roundworm, which can be contained in the feces and seldom causes a severe illness in humans, can be ingested when cleaning raccoon latrines without wearing breathing protection.
The increasing number of raccoons in urban areas has resulted in diverse reactions in humans, ranging from outrage at their presence to deliberate feeding. Some wildlife experts and most public authorities caution against feeding wild animals because they might become increasingly obtrusive and dependant on humans as a food source. Other experts challenge such arguments and give advice on feeding raccoons and other wildlife in their books. Raccoons without a fear of humans are a concern to those who attribute this trait to rabies, but scientists point out that this behavior is much more likely to be a behavioral adjustment to living in habitats with regular contact to humans for many generations. Raccoons usually do not prey on domestic cats and dogs, but individual cases of killings have been reported.
While overturned waste containers and raided fruit trees are just a nuisance to homeowners, it can cost several thousand dollars to repair damage caused by the use of attic space as dens. Relocating or killing raccoons without a permit is forbidden in many urban areas on grounds of animal welfare. These methods usually only solve problems with particularly wild or aggressive individuals, since adequate dens are either known to several raccoons or will quickly be rediscovered. Loud noises, flashing lights and unpleasant odors have proven particularly effective in driving away a mother and her kits before they would normally leave the nesting place (when the kits are about eight weeks old). Typically, though, only precautionary measures to restrict access to food waste and denning sites are effective in the long term.
Amongst all fruits and crops cultivated in agricultural areas, sweet corn in its milk stage is particularly popular among raccoons. In a two-year study by Purdue University researchers, published in 2004, raccoons were responsible for 87% of the damage to corn plants. Like other predators, raccoons searching for food can break into poultry houses to feed on chickens, ducks, their eggs or feed. Since they may enter tents and try to open locked containers on camping grounds, campers are advised to not keep food or toothpaste inside a tent.
Since raccoons are able to increase their rate of reproduction up to a certain limit, extensive hunting often does not solve problems with raccoon populations. Older males also claim larger home ranges than younger ones, resulting in a lower population density. The costs of large-scale measures to eradicate raccoons from a given area for a certain time are usually many times higher than the costs of the damage done by the raccoons.
In the mythology of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the raccoon was the subject of folk tales. Stories such as How raccoons catch so many crayfish from the Tuscarora centered on its skills at foraging. In other tales, the raccoon played the role of the trickster who outsmarts other animals, like coyotes and wolves. Among others, the Dakota Sioux believed that the raccoon had natural spirit powers, since its mask resembled the facial paintings, two-fingered swashes of black and white, used during rituals to connect to spirit beings. The Aztecs linked supernatural abilities especially to females whose commitment to their young was associated with the role of wise women in the tribal society.
The raccoon also appears in Native American art across a wide geographic range. Petroglyphs with engraved raccoon tracks were found at the Crow Hollow Petroglyph site (Grayson County, Kentucky), the Lewis Canyon, Texas, and in river drainages near Tularosa, New Mexico, and San Francisco. A true to detail figurine made of quartz stone, the Ohio Mound Builders' Stone Pipe, was found near the Scioto River. The meaning and significance of the Raccoon Priests Gorget which features a stylized carving of a raccoon and was found at the Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma, remains unknown.
In Western culture, several autobiographical novels about living with a raccoon have been written, mostly for children. The best-known is Sterling North's Rascal, which recounts how he raised a kit during World War I. In recent years, anthropomorphic raccoons played main roles in the animated television series The Raccoons, the computer-animated film Over the Hedge and the video game series Sly Cooper.
The fur of raccoons is used for clothing, especially for coats and coonskin caps. Native American tribes not only used the fur for winter clothing, but also used the tails for ornament. Since the late 1700s, various types of scent hounds, called coonhounds, which are able to tree animals have been bred in the United States. In the 19th century, when coonskins occasionally even served as means of payment, several thousand raccoons were killed each year in the United States. This number rose quickly when automobile coats became popular after the turn of the century. In the 1920s, wearing a raccoon coat was regarded as status symbol among college students. Attempts to breed raccoons in fur farms in the 1920s and 1930s in North America and Europe turned out not to be profitable, and farming was abandoned after prices for long-haired pelts dropped in the 1940s. Although raccoons had become rare in the 1930s, at least 388,000 were killed during the hunting season of 1934/35.
After persistent population increases began in the 1940s, the seasonal hunt reached about one million animals in 1946/47 and two million in 1962/63. The 1948 senatorial campaign of Estes Kefauver, who wore such a cap for promotional purposes, and the broadcast of three television episodes about the frontiersman Davy Crockett and the film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier in 1954 and 1955 led to a high demand for coonskin caps in the United States (though the caps supplied to the fad were typically made of faux fur with a raccoon tail attached). Ironically, it is unlikely that either Crockett or the actor who played him actually wore a cap made from raccoon fur. The seasonal hunt reached an all-time high with 5.2 million animals in 1976/77 and ranged between 3.2 and 4.7 million for most of the 1980s. In 1982, the average pelt price was $20. In the first half of the 1990s, the seasonal hunt dropped to 0.9 to 1.9 million due to decreasing pelt prices. As of 1987, the raccoon was identified as the most important wild furbearer in North America in terms of revenue.
While primarily hunted for their fur, raccoons were also a source of food for Native Americans and barbecued raccoon was a traditional food on American farms. It was often a festive meal. Raccoon was eaten by American slaves at Christmas, but it was not necessarily a dish of the poor or rural; in the San Francisco newspaper Golden Era of December 21, 1856, raccoon is among the specialties advertised for the holiday, and US President Calvin Coolidge's pet raccoon Rebecca was originally sent to be served at the White House Thanksgiving Dinner. The first edition of The Joy of Cooking, released in 1931, contained a recipe for preparing raccoon.
Because raccoons are generally thought of as varmints, the idea of eating them is repulsive to mainstream consumers. However, many thousands of raccoons are still eaten each year in the United States. Although the Delafield, Minnesota, Coon Feed has been an annual event since 1928, its culinary use is mainly identified with certain regions of the American South like Arkansas where the Gillett Coon Supper is an important political event.
Raccoons are sometimes kept as pets, which is discouraged by many experts because the raccoon is not a domesticated species. Raccoons may act unpredictably and aggressively and it is usually impossible to teach them to obey commands. In places where keeping raccoons as pets is not forbidden, such as in Wisconsin and other U.S. states, an exotic pet permit may be required.
Sexually mature raccoons often show aggressive natural behaviors such as biting during the mating season. Neutering them at around five or six months of age decreases the chances of aggressive behavior developing. Raccoons can become obese and suffer from other disorders due to poor diet and lack of exercise. When fed with cat food over a long time period, raccoons can develop gout. With respect to the research results regarding their social behavior, it is now required by law in Austria and Germany to keep at least two individuals to prevent loneliness. Raccoons are usually kept in a pen (indoor or outdoor), also a legal requirement in Austria and Germany, rather than in the apartment where their natural curiosity may result in damage to property.
When orphaned, it is possible for kits to be rehabilitated and reintroduced to the wild. However, it is uncertain whether they re-adapt well to life in the wild. Feeding unweaned kits with cow milk rather than a kitten replacement milk or a similar product can be dangerous to their health.