Animal of the month: Raccoon

• Species: Raccoon.

• Scientific name: Procyon lotor.

• Nicknames: None.

• Claim to fame: “Coon hunting” is part of the Ozarks’ rural heritage that dates back to this region’s first settlers. 

Though the sport isn’t as popular these days, raccoons are still classified as a game animal in Missouri and are included in the state’s furbearer season, which runs from Nov. 15 to Jan. 31. (See Missouri Wildlife Code for details.)

Although raccoons make for entertaining viewing in the wild, these ring-tailed creatures are nuisances to many homeowners because of their habits of raiding garbage cans, pet food dishes and bird feeders.

• Species status: Raccoons are found throughout Missouri. It’s theorized that an increase in habitat in the urban areas and a decline in trapping and hunting of raccoons in recent decades has led to an increase in raccoon numbers in some parts of the country.

• First discovered: The first scientific description of the raccoon was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. 

The animal’s name is a variation of an Algonquian Indian word variously spelled as arocoun, arakun, arathkone and aroughcun.

• Family matters: Raccoons are members of the mammal family Procyonidae, a New World family that includes coatis, kinkajous and ringtails.

• Length: Up to 38 inches.

• Diet: Raccoons eat plant and animal matter, depending upon what is available. Plant foods include persimmons, grapes, wild plums, and corn (both in the milk and hardened stages). 

Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, turtles, insects and the eggs of ground-nesting birds. Raccoons have very sensitive front feet and seem to get more information from feeling when their feet or wet than when they are dry. 
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Consequently, raccoons often wet their food in water and turn it over and over with their front feet to examine it before they eat it.

• Weight: Up to 25 pounds.

• Distinguishing characteristics: The raccoon is a medium-sized stocky creature that has a prominent black “mask” over the eyes and a heavily furred ringed tail. 

The muzzle is pointed, but the head is broad across the jowls. Its short ears are prominent and pointed.

• Life span: Most raccoons live less than five years in the wild, but they’ve been known to live up to 17 years in captivity.

• Habitat: In Missouri, raccoons prefer habitat with hardwood timber, which may be either a dense forest or a narrow stand of trees bordering a river or some other area with water (an area such as a lake, pond, or swamp). 

Raccoons also have shown a high adaptability to urban habitats.

• Life cycle: Most raccoons are born in April or early May. Young are furred at birth. Adult females may move their young to a different den, carrying them one at a time by the nape of the neck. 

The young stay in the den until they’re eight to 10 weeks of age, at which time they learn to eat solid foods and start foraging with their mother. 

The young are completely weaned in August. Although some young may move away in the fall, most stay near the female until the following spring.

(source: MDC)

A young Raccoon stay on alert early in a morning at Lone Elk Park in Eureka, MO.

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