Raccoon: Characteristics, Habitat, Feeding, Reproduction

The raccoon (Procyon) is a type of placental mammal, which belongs to the Procyonidae family. The main distinguishing feature of this group is their black mask on the face, which surrounds their eyes. In addition, it has a tail with dense fur and dark stripes, which alternate with a light shade.

In addition, on each leg it has five elongated fingers, with non-retractable claws and a non-opposable thumb. In the front legs there are numerous nerve endings, which allow it to have a highly developed tactile sense.

The genus is made up of three species: Procyon lotor , which inhabits North America and has been introduced in Europe, Procyon cancrivorus , located in Central and South America, and Procyon pygmaeus , an endemic species from Cozumel Island, in Mexico.

Despite being part of the Carnivore order, members of this genus are omnivores. Thus, they eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, acorns, corn, insects, crabs, birds and rats, among others.

Its natural habitat is forests, wetlands, and areas near rivers and lakes. However, due to their great ability to adapt to different ecosystems, they tend to live in urban and suburban areas.


Researchers have done numerous works where raccoon mental abilities are determined. The vast majority of these are based on their developed sense of touch.

However, in recent years studies have been carried out aimed at understanding its ability to encode information, and then store and retrieve it. The results show that the raccoon can remember the solution of some assignments for up to three years.

In a study carried out by specialists, the animal was able to quickly differentiate the same and different symbols, three years after having acquired the initial learning.

Life expectancy

In the wild, the raccoon can live up to 16 years, although the vast majority do not reach two years of life. Those that are in captivity generally live more than 20 years.

Despite being a relatively long-lived animal, its life expectancy in the wild is 1.8 and 3.1 years. If they manage to survive this long, the mortality rate drops between 10 and 30%.

Its natural predators are coyotes, wildcats and the great American royal owls, which mainly hunt the young. Also, the bald eagle, the cougar, the wolf, the black bear and the lynx include the raccoon in their diet.

However, predation is not the main cause of death, since many of these predators have been exterminated in various areas where members of the genus Procyon inhabit.

What most affects the decline in the raccoon population are the actions of human beings, who hunt and degrade the environment where this species lives.

Also, there are deadly diseases that attack the raccoon’s body. Among these is the distemper, which could acquire epidemic proportions, killing a significant number of animals


Raccoons are often carriers of rabies, a deadly infectious disease that is transmitted by saliva. This virus can be spread to man through an animal bite and, if not treated in time, could cause death.

Distemper is an epizootic virus that infects this species; however, it does not affect man. This condition is the most frequent natural cause of death in North America, affecting the animal in all age groups.

Some of the bacterial diseases that affect members of the genus Procyon are leptospirosis, tetanus, listeriosis, and tularemia. Baylisascaris procyonis larvae , contained in raccoon feces, could be ingested by man and cause possible organic complications.


Raccoons have a robust build, with short limbs, a long snout, and a bushy tail. This is used as a store of fat and to balance the body while climbing. Also, it can serve as a support, when it sits on its legs.

The hind legs are described as plantigrade, similar to that of bears and humans. When standing, the soles of the legs are in direct contact with the ground. However, they can sometimes walk with their heels raised.


Raccoons can walk, run or jog, using the soles of their legs. While running, they can reach a speed of 16 to 24 km / h. However, they cannot maintain that rhythm for long.

Also, they usually stand on their two hind legs, in order to be able to examine objects with their forelimbs.

Faced with a threat, they escape by climbing the nearest tree, quickly climbing its trunk. To descend from it, they can turn their hind legs, and in this way they do it with their head down.

A striking feature is that they are expert swimmers, being able to travel long distances. In this way, they reach an average speed of 5 km / h, being able to stay in the water for several hours.


The coat has two layers. One is thick and long-haired, which protects it from moisture, and another is much denser and has short hair, which works as an insulator. Annually, in spring, the raccoon loses the hairs that protected it from the cold. However, in late summer, these grow back.


The aspects that stand out the most in the raccoon are the dark mask on the face and its ringed tail. This could have between 5 and 7 bands, in which cream and black colors alternate. Both characteristics are specific to each species, which allows them to identify each other.

In general, this group is darker in the dorsal area than in the ventral area. Hair color can be from dark gray to black, with oxide tones. However, Procyon cancrivorus is less gray on the back than Procyon lotor .

Studies show that there are no variations in hair color or thickness between males and females or between adults and youngsters.

The crab raccoon mask fades to the back of the eyes, while the American raccoon mask reaches down to the ears.

Regarding the tail, it is usually the base color of the body, with dark stripes or in lighter tones. In the case of the Cozumel raccoon, it has a golden yellow hue.

Variations according to geography

As for the common raccoon, the coat varies depending on the habitat. Those that live in forested regions tend to be darker in color than those that are found in deserts and on the coasts.

Thus, in coastal areas they have reddish hair, while in arid areas the coloration can be light brown or blond.

The thickness also depends on the environment where it is located. The species that inhabit the north have thicker hair than those of the south. In this way, the mammal can withstand the intense cold of winter that occurs in countries with northern latitude.


In general, members of the genus Procyon can be 50 to 100 centimeters long, including the tail. This has an approximate length of 20 to 41 centimeters.

In relation to weight, it is around 4.5 and 16 kilograms. Generally, females tend to be smaller than males.

Weight may vary from season to season. Thus, in the first days of winter, the raccoon could weigh almost twice as much as in the spring, because it has stored fat.



This is one of the most developed senses. Members of the genus Procyon have five elongated digits, each with a curved, sharp, and non-retractable claw.

In these animals, the thumb is not opposite, which prevents it from grasping objects in the same way as primates. However, they put both legs together to lift and handle their food.

Likewise, a large concentration of nerve endings are located on the front legs, up to four times more than on the back legs.

The tactile sensations captured are interpreted by the brain. In this, the area of ​​sensory perception is wide and highly specialized for interpreting these impulses. Thanks to this, the raccoon can easily distinguish different surfaces and objects, just by touching them.

A typical behavior is that, in the presence of a body of water, the animal gets its legs wet. This could be associated with the pads becoming more flexible and soft.

Also, they can pick up the vibrations that some animals produce. So they are usually successful when locating and capturing insects, fish and crustaceans.


Raccoons have poor long-distance vision. Rather, it can clearly see nearby prey. Specialists suggest that they do not have the ability to distinguish colors, but they can detect green light.

As for the dark fur that surrounds the eyes, it is believed to be an adaptive evolution to their nocturnal behavior. Thus, it will absorb the luminosity of the night, and, by reducing the brightness, the vision in the dark is more efficient.

Taste and smell

Like some mammals, the raccoon has a highly sensory structure, known as the Jacobson’s organ. This is lodged between the mouth and the nose, in the volmer bone. Its function is to act as an auxiliary to the sense of smell, detecting different chemical substances.

Thanks to this great advantage, it could identify members of its species, possible threats and even the animals that make up its diet.


In nocturnal animals, the sense of hearing is extremely important. In this way, they can hunt and avoid predators. Although the raccoon does not have the most developed hearing of the Procyonids, it is specialized enough to pick up sounds between 50 and 85 kHz.


Pseudobassaris riggsi is the earliest known procyonid fossil record. It was located in Western Europe and dates from the late Oligocene period, around 25 million years ago.

The cranial and dental structures could indicate that weasels and procyonids had a common ancestor. However, molecular analysis establishes a closer relationship between bears and raccoons.

The diversification of this genus occurred in the Miocene, southern North America and in the Central American tropical forests.

The mechanism of speciation was probably related to competition for food resources. This could explain the coexistence in the same habitat of different genera of the Procyonidae family.

The ancestors of the common raccoon ( Procyon lotor ) left the tropical seas and migrated north. This migration is corroborated with the discovery of a fossil record corresponding to the Pliocene, located in the Great Plains, in the American continent.

At the beginning of the Pleistocene, the genus Procyon was found in almost the entire territory of North America, ranging from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, in what is now the United States.

South America

The first group of procyonids arrived in South America during the Huayqueriense – Montehermosense, between 9 and 4 million years ago. These were part of the Chapalmalania and Cyonasua genera and were considered part of the fauna that preceded the Great American Biotic Exchange (GABI).

In relation to the current clades, only fossilized samples of Procyon and Nasua have been found, with one occurrence of Lujanense.

There are two approaches that try to explain the origin of these genres. The first suggests that they were part of the group of procyonids that preceded GABI. The other hypothesis places these mammals as the last immigrants, within the context of this important migratory event.

Regarding this, the findings found in El Breal de Orocual, an important fossil deposit located in the Monagas state (Venezuela), refute the proposal of the late entry of coatis and raccoons to South America.

Likewise, these fossils represent the oldest samples of Procyon sp. and N. nasua currently reported in South America.

Studies of the evidence suggest that these species possibly suffered from habitat fragmentation during the early Pleistocene. This could be due to environmental variations that occurred during prehistory.

Habitat and distribution

The species that make up the genus Procyon are distributed from North America to South America.

Thus, the crab-eating raccoon ( P. cancrivorus ) is found in the jungle and swamp areas of Central and South America, including Trinidad and Tobago. In this way, it covers from Costa Rica to the territories located east of the Andes, west and east of Paraguay and north of Uruguay and Argentina.

The Cozumel raccoon ( P. pygmaeus ) is native to the island of Cozumel, located on the Caribbean coast of Yucatán, in Mexico.

As for the common raccoon ( P. lotor ), it is the one with a greater natural range, located from the southern part of Canada to Panama. In Central America, the range of this species overlaps with the Procyon cancrivorus .

In addition, it has been introduced in various regions of continental Europe. Sightings have been recorded in several countries bordering Germany, where the largest population is housed, outside of North America.

It is also stable in France and is present in Spain and Italy, with a very important reproductive group in Lombardy. The common raccoon was also successfully introduced to Belarus and Azerbaijan.

Urban area

Due to its great adaptability, the raccoon uses various urban areas as habitat. The first records occurred in Cincinnati in the 1920s. Starting in 1950, they have been present in metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Washington DC, and Toronto.

Since 2010, they have shared urban spaces in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Relative to Europe, the German city of Kassel is home to the largest population of Procyon lotor .


The crab-eating raccoon lives in diverse ecosystems, including forests. However, it prefers those areas located around bodies of water, such as rivers, ponds and lakes.

On Cozumel Island, the endemic raccoons of that region exist in only two habitats, with specific conditions. Thus, they are found in the wetlands and mangrove forests located in the extreme north of the island, preferring sandy-type soils.

In addition, they have been sighted in some areas of semi-evergreen forests, surrounded by flooded lands. The specificity of the natural environment of this species may be associated with the foods that make up its diet, based on crabs.

The common raccoon lives in the mixed and deciduous forests of North America. However, due to its great adaptability, its area has extended to coastal marshes, mountainous regions, plains and urban areas.

Raccoons avoid open terrain, as they need trees to climb and shelter in case they feel threatened. In addition, they use the hollows of the trees for their lair, although they also live in the crevices of the rocks, in the caves and in the burrows left by other animals.

Taxonomy and species

– Animal Kingdom.

– Subkingdom Bilateria.

– Chordate Phylum.

– Vertebrate Subfilum.

– Tetrapoda superclass.

– Mammal class.

– Subclass Theria.

– Order Carnivora.

– Suborder Caniformia.

– Family Procyonidae.

– Genus Procyon.


Procyon cancrivorus

The crab-eating raccoon is nocturnal, taking refuge in the hollows of trees during the day. Their diet is not restricted to crabs, although it is their preferred food. He also eats vegetables, frogs, fish, and insects, among others.

This animal is an expert swimmer, so its body is covered in hairs that repel water. In addition, to swim it is helped with its hind legs, which are webbed.

Procyon lotor

This species is known as the common raccoon, North American raccoon, northern raccoon, or simply as a raccoon. It is widely spread across North America, in plains and forests. However, it is also found in urban areas, such as small suburbs or in towns or villages.

Procyon pygmaeus

This is known as a pygmy raccoon. It lives endemically on the island of Cozumel, in the Yucatan peninsula. In addition to being the smallest species, it is distinguished by having a black band on the throat, reduced teeth and a yellowish-gold tail.


The raccoon has nocturnal habits, so it usually sleeps during the day and looks for its food at night. Within its diet, it consumes both foods of plant origin and those from other animals.

For vegetables, eat nuts, berries, corn, mushrooms, and fruits, such as strawberries, apples, raspberries, and black cherries.

Within the group of birds that make up their diet are ducks and their eggs. They also hunt reptiles, such as turtles and small snakes, and some amphibians, among which are frogs.

In relation to the group of invertebrates , insects, freshwater mussels, earthworms and crayfish are included. Also, it feeds on fish, bats, mice, and carrion.

Eating methods

The way to eat will depend on the type of food. For example, if it is seeds and nuts, the raccoon can take them or roll them to the place where they are going to ingest them. There he examines them in detail with his hands and then consumes them.

On the other hand, when hunting crabs or fish, it dips its front legs into the water, enthusiastically touching the entire surface, in search of its prey. In this way, it examines, rubs, collects and can even remove some unwanted parts of the food.

This behavior is usually misinterpreted, as it is associated with the action of “washing” food. The intention, apart from obtaining food, is to increase the tactile sensitivity of the legs.

This occurs because, when wet, the hard layer that covers them softens and thus increases the perception capacity.

In captivity, the raccoon, before ingesting the food, submerges it in the water to “wet” it. This behavior does not occur in nature. According to research, it is done to simulate the usual act of looking for food in rivers or lakes.


The adult stage of members of the genus Procyon begins around one year of age, becoming sexually mature. They are polygamous and their mating is stimulated by warm ambient temperatures.

Thus, they usually reproduce in late January and mid-March, when there is an increase in sunlight during the day. However, in some places, mating patterns are not dependent on light.

When it is time to find a mate, the males wander tirelessly through the territory, in search of females in heat, with whom they can mate.


As for copulation, it can last more than an hour, including foreplay as part of courtship. Also, it can occur over several days. According to studies, about a third of females mate, in the same season, with more than one male.

In this type of reproduction, the weaker males have the opportunity to join the females, since the strongest are unable to reproduce with all the females that are available.

The gestation period of the Procyon is 63 to 65 days. Females have six breasts and the size of the litter can vary from 1 to 8 cubs, with only one birth per year. However, this could vary by habitat.

For example, those who live in Alabama have, on average, three cubs, while in North Dakota five raccoons are born at each birth.


The puppies weigh between 60 and 75 grams. At birth they are deaf and blind, being able to open their eyes 18 to 24 days later. They have little fur, but nevertheless the mask of their eyes is visible. Their care depends almost exclusively on the mother since the father does not participate during the upbringing.

Hatchlings can make a variety of calls, including wailing, meowing, grunting, and purring. In the sixth week, they can walk and in the seventh they run and climb the trees.

The young begin to leave the burrow when they are between 8 and 12 weeks old, coinciding with the weaning process. However, some continue to be breastfed for several months, although they also consume solid foods.

State of conservation

The three species that make up the genus Procyon have been showing a decrease in their population. For this reason, the IUCN has included them on its list of animals at risk of extinction. However, Procyon cancrivorus and Procyon lotor present a lower risk and currently their population shows a slight growth.

In relation to the pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus ), the condition is critical. Considering the entire surface of the Island of Cozumel, its habitat is reduced to a very small area, located on the coast where there is the largest area for tourism.


In general, there are several causes that influence the decrease in the number of these species. Among these is hunting, for sport or for the purpose of marketing their skin. In addition, they are usually captured to be sold as pets.

Also, as it lives in urban and suburban areas, it is common for the raccoon to be run over by vehicles when the animal tries to cross the roads.

Another factor that threatens this placental mammal is the destruction of its habitat. This particularly affects Procyon pygmaeus , as its natural biomes have been fragmented by various coastal tourist developments and mangrove degradation.

Status of the pygmy raccoon

The situation of this species is particular. Because it lives on an island where tourism is an important economic activity, the development of tourist complexes has altered the ecosystem .

Likewise, the expansion of the road system has divided the territory into three areas. In this way, a barrier effect is created between the biomes.

Another problem is invasive predators such as Boa constrictors and wild and domestic dogs. Also, the introduction of Procyon lotor could represent a risk of genetic introgression.

Hurricanes are a natural threat to the biota of Cozumel Island, causing a drastic decline in population and serious changes in the ecosystem.


The laws of the different countries where it lives, together with various international organizations, protect the raccoon. Since 2010, in Mexico, the pygmy raccoon has been included in the list of threatened species, according to the SEMARNAT resolution.

Likewise, new reserve areas have been established on Cozumel Island. In addition, an invasive animal control program is underway, specifically street cats and dogs.



Previously, the raccoon was considered a solitary animal. However, there is currently evidence that he tends to establish social relationships. In this sense, females with young live in a social model known as fission fusion. Thus, they share a common area, meeting occasionally in rest or feeding areas.

The males form loose groups, to maintain, during the mating season, their position before the males of other groups. This is because these could be aggressive towards the puppies, so the females isolate themselves with their young until they grow up and can defend themselves.

The females prefer to inhabit those areas that offer them shelter and food resources. On the other hand, the males occupy the spaces that allow them to have access to the females.

The seasons influence the sociability of the raccoon. From the beginning of autumn, these become little social. On the contrary, in the winter and spring time, these animals usually share with the members of the groups that inhabit the territory where they live.


Raccoons have very particular calls, which are used between mothers and their young. One of these is chirping, characterized by prolonged high pitched sounds. Also, aggressive behaviors are often accompanied by yelling, hissing, growling, and howling.

When they feel threatened they can assume some postures, such as bare teeth, lashing the tail, arching the back and lifting the hairs in the dorsal area. To show submission, the raccoon usually lowers its head.

The scent glands leave marks, which make it possible to establish the range of the home, as well as to identify other members of the group. Faeces and urine that remain in latrines provide information to raccoons regarding foraging areas.

In this way, the researchers have confirmed that the animal returns to the area to sleep, eat and carry out collective activities, including some games.

Captive breeding

Raccoons are exotic animals. In this sense, legal regulations vary in each country, so it is appropriate to verify the legality of keeping them in captivity. In addition, in the event that your possession has legal protection, knowledge of the regulations established in this regard is important.


These animals are very active, so the enclosure must have excellent ventilation, be spacious and be outdoors. Inside this, you need logs, trees or structures where you can climb and jump. In addition, you can not miss ample food and water containers.

In addition, it is important that there is a shelter, because naturally they usually rest in the hollows of the trees.

Food and water

Because their diet is omnivorous, their diet should include vegetables, fruits, eggs, insects, chicken, and fish. An important element is water. It is necessary that the space where the raccoon is found has a container that contains fresh water and in sufficient quantity.

Health problems

Members of the genus Procyon are susceptible to rabies and distemper. Although some specialists could vaccinate them, there is no certainty that this really protects the animal against these diseases.

Other medical problems that could develop are obesity, urinary tract infections, fleas, and intestinal parasites.


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