Did you know that Rocket Raccoon was a fictional character in Marvel Comic Books first appearing in 1976 and before that Rocky Raccoon was a song by the Beatles from 1968? Rocket Raccoon also appeared in the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy and from 2014 -2019 he is voiced by Bradley Cooper. A raccoon is even the mascot for the National Wildlife Federation – Ranger Rick. (Check out Raccoon’s Secret Superpower video – see resources below.)
The real animal Procyon lotor is truly remarkable. It is literally a “Houdini”, capable of opening doors by turning door handles or unlatching locks, untying knots, and even unscrewing the tops of jars. They have five toes with curved claws on their front and hind feet that look like small human hands and feet. They are flat-footed or “plantigrade” like humans and bears. They do not have an opposable thumb, like primates – humans, monkeys and apes, but they have highly sensitive touch receptors on their front feet and no webbing between the toes which allows them to be excellent climbers and very adaptable.
Raccoon is from the Algonquin word arakunem, which means “least like a fox”. The genus Procyon ( Procyon is also The Little Dog Star – the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor) is Greek and it means “before the dog”. Lotor means “washer” and refers to the misconception that they wash their food before washing. What they are really doing is “dabble” in the water to find food.
Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat just about anything. They will raid your garbage cans, gardens or dumpsters. Since they like to be around water, in the wild they will eat aquatic insects, crayfish, snakes, fish, frogs and even turtle eggs. While climbing in a tree they will eat fruits and berries and are major predators of birds and bird eggs. When out and about on land they will eat nuts or often raid bumblebee and wasp nests, appearing to have a high tolerance of pain and able to tolerate bee stings. As I have found, they are very fond of sweet corn and just when you are ready to pick it…you find that they beat you to it, knocking down the stalks and having a feast on it even without butter! They are the masked bandito!
Easily identified by their mask and ringed tail. They weigh 10-20 pounds with the males being slightly larger than the females. Their head and body is 18-28″ and add another 8-12″ for their tail. They den up in hollow trees and logs, rock crevices and caves or use abandoned fox and woodchuck dens. Since they are so adaptable they are commonly found in suburban and urban areas throughout most of southern Canada and the United States into Mexico and Central America.
The females often breed the first year and after a gestation of 63 days 2-7 young, called kits or pups) are born, late April to early May. They usually have one litter per year. They sometimes live 16 years in the wild, but their average lifespan is 5 years of age. Their predators include coyote, fisher, bobcat, red fox and great-horned owls, but since they thrive in populated areas they are most likely to be killed by cars.
When they are born they are furred, but the eyes are closed. They remain in the den for 8-10 weeks and then head out with the mother so she can teach them the art of foraging. At 3-4 months they are able to forage on their own and have become pretty adept at climbing trees. They can even climb down trees head first.
Raccoons are alert and intelligent animals with a large vocabulary of sounds to express their feelings, growling and snarling when angry. Although they can be seen during the day they are chiefly nocturnal and use their well developed sense of touch to find their way around in the night.
Raccoons eat a lot to build up fat reserves for the winter-time. They are not true hibernators and they will conserve energy by sleeping for a few days to several weeks in their dens, sometimes with other raccoons. Their body temperature remains constant and they wake up intermittently to obtain food and water.
As wild animals they should never be kept as a pet or allowed into your home. Stories are told of when people have done this. One even came into a man’s home when he played Bach on his stereo and it left after the music was over. Whether this is true or not, it is not a good idea and they are more apt to wreck havoc in a home. In addition to the destruction that might occur they are a “vector” or primary carrier of rabies, a fatal viral disease, also found in bats, skunks and foxes. They can be vicious when approached, especially when protecting their young. Their scat also carries roundworms. They develop latrines along their corridors and pathways and since children’s sandboxes can be used as a latrine site they should be covered!
If a raccoon decides to take up residence in your attic, garage or shed, don’t take any chances, call in a professional to get it out! See resources below. The masked bandito is an animal to be appreciated from afar.
Raccoon’s Secret Superpower – YouTube 4:28
Wildlife Fact Sheet – Raccoons
Nuisance Wildlife Control and Rabies