Vector Spotlight: Raccoon

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SCIENTIFIC NAME

Procyon lotor

OTHER NAMES

Masked Bandit

DESCRIPTION

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are medium-sized and stocky-built animals (23.7 to 46.5 in.) with long bushy tails that have five to seven black rings. The head is broad in the rear and narrows to a short, pointed nose. The feet have hairless soles and claws that are non-retractable. Raccoons are similar to humans in that they are plantigrade, a term used to describe animals that walk on the soles of their feet. The front feet have long, thin flexible fingers that are opposable to some degree and are very sensitive to touch. They have the capability of grasping or holding onto food or other objects. The face has a very notice-able black mask across the eyes and cheeks that is outlined with white. The fur is a coarse gray, brown, and black with lighter shades on the sides.

DISTRIBUTION

Procyon lotor is a common mammal found throughout Alabama and the United States except for the Rocky Mountains and deserts of the Southwest.

HABITAT

Raccoons inhabit areas such as bottomland hardwoods, swamps, pine/hardwood forest, farmlands, wooded resi-dential areas in cities and towns, and other areas that have a supply of den trees, food and water. Den areas can be found in hollow trees, rock crevices, under tree roots, and burrows of other animals. They are relatively scarce in dry upland woodlands and southern pine forests.

FEEDING HABITS

Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. They will feed on plant material such as wild fruits, berries, acorns, nuts, corn, and garden vegetables. Their diet will also include insects, crayfish, frogs, fish, bird and turtle eggs, snakes, and small mammals. In urban areas and city parks they will also forage in trashcans and garbage dumps. The rac-coon’s Latin name, lotor, means “the washer” and refers to the perceived habit of dousing food in water before eating it. Recent studies indicate that this behavior is only common in captive raccoons and seems to be a substitute for the dabbling process used in searching for prey in aquatic habitats.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY

Raccoons begin to mate as early as December to as late as August, with a peak in the mat-ing season around February and March. The gestation period is 63 days and most young are born between April and Au-gust. Females can have one to seven young per year with an average of three to four. The young are weaned and begin to leave the nest to forage on their own at the age of 10 to12 weeks. Females are able to breed at about one year of age and males not until their second year.

REFERENCES

John A. Sealander and Gary A. Heidt. 1990. Arkansas Mammals. The University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville London. 213 pp.
AUTHOR: Phil Miller, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Reprinted with permission from http://www.outdooralabama.com