Physical Features: The adult raccoon is a medium-sized mammal and the largest of the Procyonidae family. It averages 24 to 38 inches in length and can weigh between 14 to 23 lbs., or more, depending upon habitat and available food. The male raccoon, or boar, is slightly larger than the female, also referred to as sow. The young are called kits. The mask of black fur that covers its eyes is its most characteristic and familiar feature. One hypothesis for the dark fur is that it may help reduce glare and enhance the nocturnal animal’s night vision. The species has grayish brown fur, almost 90% of which is dense underfur to insulate the animal against the cold. Five to eight light and dark rings alternate on its tail. Because its hind legs are longer than the front legs, a raccoon often appears hunched when they walk or run. The five toes on a raccoon’s front paws are extremely dexterous, functioning essentially as five little fingers which allow it to grasp and manipulate food it finds in the wild as well as a variety of other objects, including doorknobs, jars, and latches. A raccoon’s most heightened sense is its sense of touch. It has very sensitive front paws and this sensitivity increases underwater. When able, a raccoon will examine objects in water.
Habitat: Although they have thrived in sparsely wooded areas in the last decades, raccoons depend on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. Therefore, they avoid open terrain and areas with high concentrations of beech trees, as beech bark is too smooth to climb. Tree hollows in old oaks or other trees and rock crevices are preferred by raccoons as sleeping, winter and litter dens. If such dens are unavailable or accessing them is inconvenient, raccoons use burrows dug by other mammals, dense undergrowth or tree crotches. In a study in the Solling range of hills in Germany, more than 60% of all sleeping places were used only once, but those used at least ten times accounted for about 70% of all uses. Since amphibians, crustaceans, and other animals found around the shore of lakes and rivers are an important part of the raccoon’s diet, lowland deciduous or mixed forests abundant with water and marshes sustain the highest population densities. While population densities range from 0.5 to 3.2 animals per square kilometer (1.3 to 8.3 animals per square mile) in prairies and do not usually exceed 6 animals per square kilometer (15.5 animals per square mile) in upland hardwood forests, more than 20 raccoons per square kilometer (51.8 animals per square mile) can live in lowland forests and marshes.
Diet: The raccoon is an omnivorous and opportunistic eater, with its diet determined heavily by its environment. Common foods include fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs, and crayfish. In urban environments, the animal often sifts through garbage for food. The majority of its diet consists of invertebrates and plant foods.
Breeding and Social Structure: The animal is nocturnal, mostly foraging and feeding at night. Though previously thought to be quite solitary, there is now evidence that the species congregates in gender-specific groups. Mating season for raccoons falls generally anytime between January and June. Most females begin reproducing around the age of one. The female has a 65-day gestation period and gives birth to two to five kits, usually in the spring. A mother usually separates from other raccoons to raise her young alone. The male does not participate in the raising of the kits. The black mask is already visible on newly-born kits. The kits stay in the den with their mother until they are between 8-10 weeks old, and will stay with their mother until they reach 13-14 months of age.