Procyon lotor
(Common Raccoon)

Order: Carnivora
Order Description: Carnivores
Family: Procyonidae
Family Description: Raccoons

Raccoons have a distinctive “bandit mask” formed by the dark blackish hair around its eyes and cheeks, offset by whitish hair over the rest of its face. Its skull is rather broad, but its muzzle is pointed and thin. Their hair on their back and sides is grizzled (dark with white on the tips) grayish to blackish, but often with rusty red or brown mixed in, underneath they are grayish brown. Their tail is distinctively round with 5 to 7 conspicuous light colored rings. Their distinctive coat has been made into many raccoon coats and hats earlier in the 1900’s and a “coonskin” hat was the trademark of Davy Crockett. They are known for their mischievous habits. Total length is 26-42 inches (655-1050 mm), tail length is 8 to 14 inches (200-350 mm) and they weigh 8 to 20 pounds (3.6-9 kg).

Raccoons range from southern Canada through most of the U.S. into Mexico and central America.

Found in various habitats including farm fields and forests, but usually along rivers, streams and shorelines. In Idaho they are found usually along rivers and streams as well as irrigation canals. They are not usually found in dry sagebrush habitat.

Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores; eating fruits, nuts, berries, corn where grown, insects, small mammals, birds' eggs and nestlings, reptiles' eggs, frogs, fishes, aquatic invertebrates, worms, and garbage. Because they rely so heavily on riparianClick word for definition habitatClick word for definition and marshland, they also eat crayfish, clams, crabs, waterfowl eggs, reptiles and amphibians. They are also known to prey on young muskrats.

They often forage along streams obtaining most food on or near the ground, near water. In the past it has been said that they “wash their food”. However, that is not accurate. They often wriggle their food in water, which may help sensory receptors on their front paws. It is thought that their sense of touch may be better when their “hands” are wet. They are primarily nocturnalClick word for definition and crepuscularClick word for definition. They may become dormant when their foraging trails are covered by deep snow, but they are not known to hibernateClick word for definition. However, during the winter they do lose a large amount of fat that they acquire during the summer and fall. Young may be more active than adults in colder, subfreezing weather. Activity seems to be reduced on nights of full moonlight, which is often the case with many other smaller, nocturnal mammals. When they are inactive, they seek shelter under logs or rocks, in tree holes, or in bank dens. Their average home range varies from 36-61 ha. Population density has been recorded at 1 individual/4-6.5 ha. Individuals are typically solitary, unless female is with young. Male raccoons may be territorial with other males, but not with females. Females don’t appear to be territorial. Because they acclimate to human garbage they often become masters at raiding garbage cans in campgrounds or in suburban areas.

Male raccoons become sexually active in January and February and actively seek receptive females. Many males remain sexually active into July, when females that were not successful breeders early in the season may be bred again. Most young are born in late April and early May, but some births, probably from second breeding attempts, may occur as late as September. Their kits remain in the den for 8 to 10 weeks, when they are weanedClick word for definition and begin to forage with the mother. GestationClick word for definition lasts 63 days. A female produces 1 litter of 3 to 7 young (average 3-4). Young are weaned at 10 to 12 weeks, stay with mother through winter or until next litter is born, and reach sexual maturity in 1 to 2 years. The percentage of yearlingsClick word for definition breeding varies annually and/or regionally. Males mate promiscuouslyClick word for definition.

Status: Game species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton,© 2000
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.