Wildlife & Invasive Species Education™ (WISE) Species Profile: The Northern Raccoon

Common Name: Northern Raccoon

Status: Native Species

Scientific Name: Procyon lotor

Occurrence: Year-round Species

Northern raccoon hiding in a tree located at Circle B Bar Preserve in Polk County. Photo: Jim E. Davis
Northern Raccoon Track. Located in Zephyrhills, Pasco County. Photo: Jim E. Davis

Identification: Raccoons can get quite big. They can be 2 to 3ft. long and weigh up to 30 lbs. Raccoons have a thick, ringed tail that has about 4 to 7 rings. The have black to gray fur on their upper body and lighter colored fur on their underbelly. The hands and feet are usually black in color and raccoons have easily identifiable track. Raccoons have a bear-like body, being very stout. Ears are pointed and they have white fur above the eyes and white fur on their snout. In between this white fur, is their trademarked black mask. Some raccoons walk head pointing forward and have an arched back.

Description: You can find raccoons most everywhere, but they really like to be around water. Raccoons have incredible night vision, excellent hearing, and strong swimmers. They are agile climbers, using trees as cover and shelter.  Cavities found in large trees like oaks, make for nice dens used for rearing young. They are nocturnal animals but also crepuscular, being seen in the twilight hours. Raccoons have a home range of about 1 to 3 square miles and males can be territorial. Mating is usually between March and April. Females have between 3 to 4 young and are weaned in about 10 to 12 weeks. The young will stay with their mother for about 10 months. Females reach sexual maturity in one year and males in two years.

Raccoon scat located at Circle B Bar Preserve in Polk County. Photo; Jim E. Davis

Diet: A raccoons diet is diverse. They are true omnivores, feeding on fish, acorns, berries, bird eggs, frogs, insects, and other animals. Have you ever seen a raccoon in the water? It seems that it is washing its hands or cleaning its food. In actuality, it is using its hands to search for food such as freshwater mussels. You may find it interesting that the Latin name translates to “Before-Dog Washer”. The name “raccoon” itself comes from the native American Algonquian word of “arakun”. This translates to “he scratches with hands”. Raccoon scat is also easy to identify, usually containing berries, fish scales, and other items that may have been recently consumed.

Northern raccoon feeding on discarded fish from osprey. Circle B Bar Preserve in Polk County. Photo: Jim E. Davis

Raccoons and Rabies:  It is illegal to feed raccoons intentionally. Feeding creates bad habits. Raccoons can carry several diseases, including distemper and rabies. Both are fatal to the raccoon. According to the CDC, “wild animals accounted for 92.7% of reported cases of rabies in 2018. Bats were the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species (33% of all animal cases during 2018), followed by raccoons (30.3%), skunks (20.3%), and foxes (7.2%).” Here in Florida, the main culprit of rabies is the raccoon. There are live vaccines distributed via fish meal blocks to help reduce the spread. Occurrence of rabies is relatively uncommon. One out of 200 raccoons in the wild are suspected of being exposed. Rabies is fatal to humans, but there is treatment if one is exposed.

Human and Raccoon Conflicts: Do not feed raccoons. A fed raccoon will lose their fear and then they can become a nuisance. Raccoons may pillage trash cans, damage fruit crops and gardens, kill ornamental fish such as koi, den under homes, and kill chickens or other poultry if not protected. Take the appropriate measures to prevent raccoons from causing any damage. Keep your dogs leashed when walking to avoid any unnecessary conflict with raccoons. Raccoons can have a temper and will fight back aggressively. For more information on living with raccoons, please visit: https://myfwc.com/media/1666/livingwithraccoons.pdf

Interesting Facts:

  • Raccoons have excellent night vision and hearing.
  • If you see a raccoon mid-day, don’t be alarmed that it may be rabid. Raccoons are nocturnal, but will actively forage during the day. Just keep your distance.
  • Raccoons can live up to 10 to 15 years in the wild.
  • Males are called “Boars”, females are called “Sows”, and young are called “Kits”.
  • Look for track and scat near a water-bodies edge.
  • Raccoons are known to raid trach cans, which people so often refer to them as “trash pandas”.

Cover Photo and Other Photo Credit: Jim E. Davis

Pictures may not be used unless receive written permission from Jim E. Davis

Pictures must be used for educational purposes only.

References: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/UW033









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Posted: December 21, 2022

Category: Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension, Wildlife

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