About Raccoons

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With an appearance that makes us think of bears, and living the lifestyle of an alley cat, raccoons aren’t actually related to neither of them. The raccoon is a mammal that usually weighs somewhere between 10 to 30 pounds, and is 2 to 3 feet long. Their fur is of a grayish color with black on top, and some of them may also present a touch (or more than a touch) of yellow coloring. Their most distinctive mark, of course, is the black bandit-like mask pattern they have around their eyes. With really wide behinds, and a very low center of gravity, you could say that raccoons have the constitution of a sumo wrestler. Due to the way their bodies are built, and the way that they are able to use their front pawns practically like primate hands, raccoons are able to push and turn over objects that are way heavier than their own bodyweight, as well as open or tear intricate systems we put in place in order to protect our property from them.

Raccoon mating season can be as long as from December all the way through to June, but they usually tend to mate in the months of February and March. With a 63-day gestation period, the majority of female raccoons will give birth to a litter of about three to five in springtime, during the months of April and May. The baby raccoons start opening their eyes when they’re about three weeks. When they reach four months of age, they’re already cut off from their mother’s milk, although they will stay with her for the entire first year of their lives. It’s kind of the norm for young city and country raccoons to spend their first winter cozied up with their mother in some warm attic. Raccoons are excellent mothers, and with the arrival of their litter’s second spring, the young usually go off to live their independent life.

Contrary to popular belief, raccoons don’t actually hibernate during wintertime, although they are less active. If they live in northern areas where winter may be harsh, they can stay relatively inactive for weeks and even months, using almost half of the body fat they’ve accumulated during the year. It is not uncommon for individuals that are not related, different females with their respective young, and even unrelated males and females with their young to den together in the same attic, thus busting the myth that raccoons are solitary creatures. I mean, they do like to keep within their own territory and don’t usually overlap, but they’re not as solitary as we might think. In southern areas, they may stay inactive for a day or two days at a time.

In captivity, raccoons live long, sometimes for even more than 20 years. The life expectancy of the common urban raccoon, however, is between two to three years. Most common causes of death are viral diseases such as distemper, hunting, extreme cold weather, and predators. And when I say ‘predator’ in relation to city raccoons, I don’t mean any natural predators such as foxes or coyotes who don’t venture so deep in urban areas, I mean their only city predator, an artificial predator – the car. And while traffic may be the number one cause of raccoon death in big cities, it’s not unimaginable that these intelligent animals will soon be able to forget all about death by car. Gradually, raccoons have made their personal highway system by navigating through the city’s sewers. Not only that, but very much like free-ranging urban dogs, raccoons have learned traffic patterns and how to safely cross streets, as well as how to avoid heavy circulated streets when getting from one point to another.

Raccoons are originally from the tropics, their natural habitat being near riverbanks where they lived up in tree cavities or down in ground burrows, coming out during the night to feed on crustaceans and frogs. As time passed, raccoons started moving north up the continent, colonizing almost all of North America, making their capital in Toronto, Canada. Big cities like New York or Chicago suited them just fine, and they even set shop in Alaska, but they did keep away from extremely dry desert areas and very high mountains. They adapted quickly and perfectly to the urban and suburban lifestyle, successfully replacing borrows and tree holes with crawlspaces underneath porches or sheds, and chimneys or attics. And not only did they have no issue with the transition from an aquatic diet to an omnivorous diet, but they thrived on it. City life was so welcoming to raccoons that their natural near-water habitat is now practically forgotten and completely unmissed, it seems.

Wild species don’t evolve to live in cities. Faced with a novel environment, only the extraordinarily adaptable and opportunistic can thrive here. Raccoons came with a toolkit of preset physical skills and smarts that made them adapt perfectly anywhere in the world where they have been introduced, from Japan to Germany.

Studies have shown the difference in behavior when it comes to city raccoons versus country raccoons. While country raccoons will tend to keep their distance from people and human activity, being shy and withdrawn, city raccoons will most naturally stroll on heavily circulated streets and densely populated areas, showing little to no aspect of reclusive behavior.

The truth is that raccoon behavior is not that well known to us. We might think we know all there is to know about raccoon behavior, but new tracking and filming technologies bring never-before-seen information every year, revealing more and more about the resilience and intelligence of these animals, as well as about the true manner in which they behave and live their lives beside and among us.

Go back to the Raccoons in the attic home page.

Read more educational articles:
What Is a Raccoon’s Mating Habits?
What Is a Raccoon’s Natural Diet?
Do More Raccoons Live in Urban Areas, or Wild Areas?
What Do Wildlife Rehabilitators Do with Raccoons?