Raccoons can be easily distinguished from other similar mammals, such as the Ringtail and the White-nosed Coati, by their trademark black mask of fur that covers their eyes (Reid, 2006). They also possess a furry tail, approximately one half the length of their head and body, with black rings on it (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974). They are stocky mammals with long and slender legs (MDC, 2013). Their hind legs are longer than their front ones, which causes them to walk with a bouncing gait with their back arched and their head held low (Reid, 2006). The muzzle is pointed and the ears are short, prominent and pointed. The dark eyes are medium sized and their paws have five toes each and have naked soles (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974). Adults are typically brown and black, with the sides grayer than the back and their belly a dull brownish color. Both sexes show similar coloration and little to no seasonal variation, although they do molt to have a lightweight coat in the summer and a heavier coat in the winter (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974).
Total length: 26-38 inches
Tail length: 7 7/8-12 inches
Hind foot: 4-7 inches
Ear: 1 7/8- 2 1/2 inches
Weight (male) 8-25 pounds
Weight (female) 6 ¾- 17 ½ pounds
(Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974)
Raccoon skulls are characterized by a hard palate on the roof of their mouth that extends past the last molar. The skull lacks a sagittal crest, and measures 4.25-5 inches in length and 2.75-2.875 inches in width at the widest points. There are 40 teeth, with a dental formula of: incisors 3/3, canines 1/1, premolars 4/4, and molars 2/2 (“Dichotomous Key to Mammal Skulls”). If the skull lacks teeth and simply has sockets, keep in mind that many molars and premolars take up two sockets.
Raccoons are omnivorous. They are opportunistic feeders, thus their diet is greatly influenced by their habitat (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974). Their diets consist of many foods, including persimmons, grapes, Osage oranges, blackberries, grasses, corn, acorns, pecans and other nuts, crayfish, fish, clams, many insects, frogs, snakes, snails, bird eggs, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and many others. They can act as herbivores or carnivores, making them an integral part of the ecosystems they occupy. They also help disperse seeds of the fruits that they consume (MDC, 2013).
Coyotes, bobcats and cougars will occasionally prey on raccoons.
Breeding typically occurs between January and June, and a female will give birth to two to five kits in the spring. The mother will go off to raise her kits alone, without the male’s participation. The kits stay in the den for eight to ten weeks, and stay with their mother for 13-14 months. Raccoons do not hibernate, although during winter they can sleep in their den for weeks at a time (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974).
Raccoons have a home that generally ranges from 1 to 10 square miles. Missouri raccoons typically prefer a hardwood habitat such as a forest or a narrow stand of trees on a body of water. They are nocturnal mammals, doing most of their foraging at night (Schwartz and Schwartz, 1974). Raccoons are smart, and often characterized as curious, clever, and cunning. They are great climbers, and are able to come down a tree headfirst if needed. Raccoons prefer to live near the water, although they can be found in urban areas. They make their dens in hollow trees, rocky crevices, caves, and will even take over abandoned woodchuck burrows (MDC, 2013).
Raccoons are common throughout Missouri and North America. However, they are most common in prairies and least common in the Ozarks and Bootheel.
The study examined the reasons associated with the high raccoon density in urban areas. The conclusion reached in the article was that increased survival, higher annual recruitment, and higher site fidelity are all partially responsible for the higher density of raccoons in urban and suburban areas. This study was published in The Journal of Wildlife Management in April of 2003 and was conducted over a three-year period. As expected, the density of the raccoons was higher in the urban and suburban sites than the density of the rural site. Generally, there was no difference in density detected between the urban and suburban areas. The sex ratio did not differ among sites or in a single site in different seasons. The survival rate at the urban and suburban sites was higher than that at the rural site during the first two years, but in the third year dropped due to an unknown disease and an increase in vehicle-related deaths. Alternatively, survival rate on the rural site increased in the third year. Rural raccoons were killed in the most ways during the three-year study. In total, 13 died at the urban site, 18 at the suburban site, and 15 at the rural site. On the urban site, disease killed 10 and vehicles claimed the other 3. On the suburban site, vehicles killed 10, disease killed 7, and nuisance-related death took 1. On the rural site, vehicles killed 6, disease killed 4, land-management practices killed 3, and predation killed 2. The number of parous females did not differ among the sites, although the ratio between young and old females did. At the urban site, the young/old female ratio was 2.1 and 4.3 the first two years. At the suburban site, the ratio was 1.3 and 3.0 the first two years, and at the rural site the ratio was 0.6 and 2.5 the first two years. To measure site fidelity, the ratio of marked to unmarked specimens was examined. This examination concluded that site fidelity was higher in the urban and suburban areas than in the rural area (Prange et al., 2003).
Dichotomous Key to Mammal Skulls. Clemson University. http://media.clemson.edu/public/sclife/lesson_plans/mammals/mammal%20skulls%20and%20teeth%20student%20handout3.pdf. n.d. Accessed October 24, 2013.
Prange S, Gehrt SD, Wiggers EP. Demographic Factors Contributing to High Raccoon Densities in Urban Landscapes. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 2003;67:324-333.
Raccoon. MDCOnline. http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/raccoon. Published 2013. Accessed October 22, 2013.
Reid F. Mammals of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin; 2006.
Schwartz C, Schwartz E. The Wild Mammals of Missouri. Missouri: University of Missouri Press; 1974.