Mammals of North America: Common Raccoon
The common raccoon, (also known as the Northern Raccoon to distinquish it from its South American cousin, the Crab-Eating Raccoon), is an omnivorous nocturnal mammal native to North America, and is commonly found from southern Canada to South America. The medium-size mammal's natural habitat is in deciduous forests, and it is most often found living near a water source, (e.g. rivers, ponds), not far from human civilization. However, if necessary the animal can adapt to living in urban areas, or most any region where a water source is readily available.
Raccoons are easily identified by their distinct head and tail features. The fur across the cheek area is blackish and narrows into horizontal bands toward the back of the head, giving the animal the appearance of wearing a mask. (See the photo at right.) There is also usually a dark stripe down the center of the mammal's face, with the remainder of the facial fur colored pale gray to white.
The raccoon is known as a plantigrade, meaning it walks on the sole of its feet, such as rabbits, bears, and humans do. Its body is generally short and plump, with a long bushy striped tail. Larger members of the species can have adult bodies that extend up to three and half feet, including the tail, and weigh on the average between 20-40 pounds. The male of the species is normally larger than the female and have been known to reach 60 pounds in weight at maturity.
A healthy female can give birth to a litter of two to seven young, known as kits, with the average being four kits per litter. She alone cares for and raises the young. When the kits have reached about seven weeks old, they will venture outside the den to explore and learn how to forage for food with their mother. They generally spend their first summer, autumn and winter with their mother, leaving her in their first spring season.
Raccoons will eat almost anything available, but are seemily particularly fond of water dwellers, (e.g. crayfish, clams, and snails). If forced to live near humans, raccoons will forage through trash cans and pet food containers to find a meal. In their natural habitat, the animal will also dine on insects, seeds, nuts, and berries.
Predators of the raccoon include coyotes, bobcats, courgars, and large owls. Humans in some areas trap the animals for their fur.