Wild Profile: Meet the raccoon

Published: February 25, 2020

Raccoon By Miroslav Hlavko/Shutterstock

Okay, let’s give credit where credit is due: the raccoon might just be one of the most adaptable mammals in North America. All a raccoon needs is a source of food, water, and a place to den; this means raccoons can survive just fine almost anywhere: woodlots; wetlands; farmland; and, of course, large cities. Still, they stick largely to southern B.C., most of Alberta, and east from Saskatchewan to the Maritimes.

Raccoons are survivors in part because they eat everything: fruits, nuts, eggs, crustaceans, snakes, rats, worms, pet food, garbage…They’re also excellent problem-solvers, with sensitive forepaws that are freakily similar to human hands. They have five tapered fingers, and long nails. Even with no opposable thumbs, this is good enough to pick up and manipulate objects. They use their “hands” as info-gathering tools, more than their senses of smell or sight. (Their front paws are about four times more sensitive than their hind paws.) Plunging their food into water—it looks like they’re washing the item—heightens their tactile abilities because the water stimulates the nerve endings in their paws.

Oh, trash pandas! Always up to no good.

Ever see a blonde raccoon? The colouring is less common than the traditional grey and black combination, but blonde raccoons aren’t albinos. They have dark eyes and noses, and (if you look closely) you can still see a faint face mask and tail stripes. Still, as with albinism, the golden coat colour is caused by a lack of pigment. Just like black bears (who can be silver, blonde, or cinnamon-coloured), it’s caused by an inherited genetic trait.

Learn 10 fascinating facts about raccoons.

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