Raccoon - (Procyon lotor)

line drawing of raccoonThe common name for this animal is from an Indian word and is variously spelled as arocoun, arakun, arathkone and aroughcun.

Description

The upper parts are grizzled brown and black, strongly washed with yellow. A prominent black band or mask occurs across the eyes and cheeks, and the tail is distinctly marked with alternate rings of yellowish gray and brownish black. This mammal is 26-38 inches (660-965 mm) long; males weigh 8-25 pounds (3.6-l1.3 kg) and females 6 3/4-7 1/2 pounds (3.0-7.9 kg). map of raccoon distribution

Distribution and abundance

Raccoons occur throughout Missouri but are most common in the Prairie Region and less abundant in the Ozark Highland and Mississippi Lowland.

Habitat and home

In Missouri, raccoons prefer a hardwood timbered habitat which may be either a dense forest, or only a narrow stand of trees bordering a river or some other water area such as a lake, pond, swamp or marsh. The home is usually a den in a hollow tree; caves, crevices in rocky ledges, abandoned woodchuck burrows, cavities under tree roots, stands of slough grass, cornshocks, haystacks, squirrel nests and muskrat houses also may be used. Each raccoon has several dens in its range and does not necessarily use the same one continuously.

Habits

Raccoons are nocturnal, doing most of their foraging and prowling from dusk to dawn. The distance an animal travels each night varies with weather conditions, food availability and sex and age. During much of the year, adult males occupy a home range about one mile (1.6 km) in diameter, although during the breeding season they may travel farther in search of a mate. Adult females and their young live in a smaller area, about 3/4 of a mile (1.2 km) in diameter. Raccoons that have been marked and released in strange surroundings have moved as far as 75 miles (120 km) from the release site. During snow and ice storms, raccoons usually den up for a few days, either singly or in groups up to nine or more, including both sexes and all ages. During these periods of inactivity, raccoons do not hibernate but remain responsive to touch and weather changes. Adults seemingly prefer to lead solitary lives, but may use communal dens during unusually severe winter weather, in periods of high population or in places with an abundant food supply.

Raccoons are expert climbers. In descending trees, they come down either head or tail first and often jump. They frequent watercourses and swim well. On land they walk with a lumbering, flat-footed gait. Raccoons will fight if cornered, but prefer to escape or conceal themselves.

On summer days, raccoons spend much of their time on the ground; on sunny fall and winter days, they lie on limbs or other high sunning spots.

Foods

Raccoons eat plant and animal matter, their choice depending largely upon what is available. The plant foods are mainly wild fruits such as persimmons, grapes, plums, chokecherries, Osage oranges, green-briars and blackberries; grasses and sedges; corn in the milk stage or when ripe and hard; and acorns, pecans and other nuts. The animal foods consist of crayfish, clams, fish, various insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, turtles and their eggs, snails, earthworms, eggs or young of ground-nesting birds, mice, squirrels, rabbits and muskrats. Most of the animal fare is obtained on the ground by hunting in shallow pools, turning over rocks, digging into rotten logs or coming upon some bird nest or hapless animal.

In captivity, raccoons are fond of softening their food in water but do not always do so before eating. Rather than depend upon sight as a method of close examination, they feel the food with their sensitive front feet. The wetting of their feet may cause them to be more sensitive. The nose is likewise sensitive to touch. The front feet frequently are used to convey food to the mouth.

Reproduction

Most breeding occurs in February, but some may take place later in the spring. There is usually only one litter annually with an average of three to four young. Most litters are born in April or early May, but some, the result of late matings, may arrive in June, July or August.

The young, weighing about 2 1/2 ounces (70 g) each, are furred at birth and either have the typical mask across their faces or develop it within the next 10 days. Their eyes open between 18 and 29 days following birth. The kits, or pups, or cubs stay in the den until about 8 to 10 weeks of age when they learn to eat solid foods and start foraging with their mother. Although some young may move away from the female in the fall, most stay near her until the following spring.

Importance

The raccoon is a valuable fur and game species. In harvest it outranks all other furbearing species in Missouri. Many hunters enjoy the sport of pursuing and taking raccoons with their hounds, and about 72 percent of the harvest is taken in this manner; trappers secure the remaining 28 percent. The durable fur is used for coats, collars, muffs and trimmings. The flesh of young animals is delicious when roasted, and many thousands of raccoons are eaten each year. Raccoons eat insects and mice, and a raccoon family living in the cavities of big timber is a valuable addition to the wildlife community. Extensive damage to corn, gardens or chickens occurs only rarely.

Management

The most important management measure for raccoons in Missouri is to preserve den trees. This involves a tolerance for large, dead or decaying trees; curtailment of den-tree cutting by night hunters; and judicious placement of artificial den boxes where necessary. Food is generally ample, but prevention of burning in timbered areas will save the acorn crop, fruits of shrubs and trees, and insects dwelling in the leaf mold, all of which raccoons feed upon. Prevention of pollution in streams promotes a better aquatic food supply, and farm ponds built near timber provide a supplementary source of aquatic food.

The intensified demand created by high prices for the pelts makes a continual control of the harvest essential. Individual raccoons causing local damage can be removed by trapping or shooting.

raccoon tracksThis series is abstracted from the revised edition of The Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz. For more detailed information about this species and other mammals in Missouri, refer to this book. Your school library may have it or can borrow it for you from the inter-library loan service. This book can be purchased from the University of Missouri Press, P.O. Box 1644, Columbia, MO 65211, or the Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City. MO 65102.>

Missouri Mammals

This project funded by the 1/8 of 1% conservation sales tax.
© 1981 Missouri Conservation Commission


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