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Common Raccoon
Common Raccoon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Procyonidae
Genus: Procyon
Storr, 1780
Type Species
Ursus lotor
Linnaeus, 1758
Procyon cancrivorus
Procyon insularis
Procyon lotor
Raccoons are mammals native to the Americas in the genus Procyon of the Procyonidae family. Raccoons are notable for their thumbs, which (though not opposable) enable them to open many closed containers (such as garbage cans) and doors. They are intelligent omnivores with a reputation for slyness and mischief.

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Species - Contents

There are three species of raccoon. The most widespread is the common raccoon (P. lotor), which has a natural range of North America and Central America, and has been introduced to Continental Europe.The two rarer species are the Tres Marias raccoon (P. insularis), native to the Caribbean, and the crab-eating raccoon (P. cancrivorus) of the tropics. The word "raccoon" is derived from the Algonquian word aroughcoune, "he who scratches with his hands." The genus name, Procyon, comes from the Greek for "pre-dog"; this term is also used for the star Procyon.Some raccoons once considered separate species are now thought to be the same as or subspecies of the common raccoon, including the Barbados raccoon (P. gloveraleni), Nassau raccoon (P. maynardi), Guadeloupe raccoon (P. minor), and Cozumel Island raccoon (P. pygmaeus) (Helgen and Wilson 2003/2005).

Other names
In many languages the raccoon is named for its characteristic dousing behaviour. The German word Waschbär, the Swedish word Tvättbjörn and the Finnish word Pesukarhu all mean "washing bear." The common raccoon is in French le raton laveur or "little washing rat"; the Linnean binomial is Procyon lotor or, roughly, "washing pre-dog."

Behavior - Contents

All raccoons are nocturnal and omnivorous, eating berries, insects, eggs and small animals. Raccoons sometimes wash, or douse, their food in water before eating it. It is unknown why raccoons perform dousing, but cleaning food is unlikely to be the reason. Studies have found that raccoons engage in dousing motions when water is unavailable; researchers note that captive raccoons are more likely than wild raccoons to douse food. It has been suggested that captive raccoons are mimicking fishing and shellfish-foraging behaviors. It may also be that the raccoon is searching for unwanted material, as water is thought to heighten their sense of touch.As city dwellers in the United States and Canada increasingly move into primary or second homes in erstwhile rural areas, raccoons are often considered pests because they forage in trash receptacles. The racoon has also adapted well to city life, and in cities such as Toronto (Ontario, Canada) the racoon is, after the grey squirrel the most common urban pest. Introduced into Germany in the 19th century, raccoons seeking food in wine cellars and storage areas have become a threat to the country's wine industry. Beginning in April 1934 raccoons, which were being commercially farmed in Germany for their then-fashionable fur, were experimentally released into the wild [1]. Population growth greatly accelerated in 1945 when disruption of the infrastructure led to numerous raccoons escaping from farms across Germany. Because they seemed to have minimal impact on forest ecology, raccoons were a protected species. Lately, however, the population density in some regions may have reached 100 raccoons per square kilometer and hunters have been offered rewards to cull the animals [2].

Literature - Contents

  • Helgen, K.M. & Wilson, D.E. 2003. Taxonomic status and conservation relevance of the raccoons (Procyon spp.) of the West Indies. Journal of Zoology (London) 259:69-76.
  • Helgen, K.M. & Wilson, D.E. 2005. A systematic and zoogeographic overview of the raccoons of Mexico and Central America. Pp. 219-234 in Sanchez-Cordero, V. & Medellin, R.A. (eds.). Contribuciones Mastozoologicas: en Homenaje a Bernardo Villa. Mexico City: Instituto de Biologia e Instituto de Ecologia, UNAM.
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