While urban and suburban areas were once thought to be unsuitable habitat for most wildlife, we now realize that they host a range of wildlife populations, which are not merely restricted to rural or pristine habitats. The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is the perfect example of this, a mammal not only surviving, but thriving in urban areas and in fact having greater densities in urban than rural areas.
While the original habitat of raccoons was deciduous and mixed forest, they have made themselves at home in residential areas. They make use of holes such as sewer pipes, culverts and drainage pipes to travel from one place to another, such as from a marsh to a woodlot. These urban structures help them avoid the dangerous use of roads.
Their den sites include hollow trees, groundhog dens, chimneys, garages, and under or inside sheds and decks. There’s just no telling where you will find a raccoon!
Not only their habitat but also their diet has great breadth, and in fact raccoons have the most diverse diet of any carnivore. For example, they feed on grubs, insects, small rodents and other small animals, eggs, fleshy fruits (like grapes), nuts and vegetables (like corn). They will also eat from garbage and composts, having easier access to this human refuse than some other mammals because of their size and climbing abilities that allow them to enter trash cans and dumpsters.
Of course, their amazing and unique ability to use their front paws as human hands to pry things open, turn knobs and handle objects certainly helps as well! They are also noted for having very high intelligence.
Raccoons breed in late winter and early spring. The females are monogamous. Young are born in May. The distinctive face mask develops in the first ten days of life. The family can range from 3 to 7 offspring. They will remain in the den until they are about 8 weeks old and then they will leave the den to hunt with their mother. They will grow and fatten up in the summer and autumn. The female and the offspring will stay together for about a year and the mother teaches them to hunt, climb and swim. Males do not participate in child rearing.
Raccoons conserve energy by denning and remaining inactive during the coldest months of winter or when snow is deep. This is not hibernation as they may occasional emerge on warm days. The family unit, excluding the male, may den together for the first winter.
Predators include coyotes, foxes and great horned owls. Malnutrition and harsh winters are a major source of death as are collisions with automobiles. Many also die from canine distemper.
Raccoons were formerly a carrier of rabies however this has been eliminated by the Province through the use of vaccine baits, trap-vaccinate-release programs, and point of infection control programs. No cases of rabies have been reported since late 2005.
Raccoons carry a roundworm parasite that it is harmful to humans if ingested. Children that place dirt in their mouth are especially vulnerable to this parasite.
People should not feed raccoons as this encourages familiarity with humans that may lead to confrontations. Dogs should be kept on leash in all areas except those designated as off leash. Avoid contact with raccoon feces.
Author: Barbi Lazarus
Toronto Animal Services Factsheet
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