One word: “mask”. What do you associate with this noun? A robber, criminal, or possibly even bandits. Or perhaps you think of the opportunistic forager, the raccoon. You most commonly picture them rustling through trash cans and attacking your neighborhood cats. But do these animals eat more than just garbage? Do they have other preferences?
Their diets are quite expansive, finding creative meals all over the world.
What Do Raccoons Eat?
A better question is, what don’t raccoons eat? These small foragers will find different types of foods to meet their daily needs. These items include, but are not limited to insects, birds, amphibians, fruits, and even dead animals. The fact that this diet involves both plants and animals makes the raccoon an omnivore. They are a determined one at that, seeking out their prey in various different environments.
The Raccoon – A short introduction
Raccoons are from the family Procyonidae, which makes animals such as raccoons, coatis, and ringtails. The genus for these animals is Procyon which have three different living species. They are all linked together by their bushy ring tails, long finger-like paws, and lastly, the iconic mask.
All three of the raccoon species live throughout the New World, or Central America and the northern tip of South America. The most common living species can be found in and around most stretches of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. With so many different habitats, they tend to differ slightly in their meal preferences.
What Do Raccoons Eat in the Wild?
The Cozumel raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus), also known as the Pygmy raccoon, is one of the living species in the genus Procyon. This animal is smaller than the more well-known species found in the United States. It also has a more rounded snout. The bushy tail is more defined by having an orange hue with fainter rings along the underside.
The adults typically weigh approximately 6 to 9 pounds, or 3 to 5 kilograms. They are also about 58 to 82 inches, or 23 to 32 cm in total length. The tail itself of these raccoons is 9 to 10 inches, or 23 to 26 centimeters, making up the majority of the entire body length.
This species of Procyon is endemic to Cozumel islands near Mexico, meaning that they can only be found in this area. The Cozumel raccoon is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List due to it only existing within 478 square kilometers, or 185 square miles.
This island is notorious for having a lack of carnivores, making the Cozumel raccoon a unique species. In fact, there have only been about 250 to 300 found individuals, making the status of its meal options very important.
These raccoons tend to live alone but can form small groups. They are nocturnal, meaning that they forage for food in the evenings rather than during the day. This affects what they are able to catch.
The Cozumel raccoon eats a variety of lizards, fruit, frogs, and insects. The biggest portion of their diet is a crab, weighing in at around 50 percent. They do tend to change their diet with the seasons, relying on the certain times of the year to find food.
During the wetter seasons, they can be found eating fruits and vegetables. In dry seasons, crabs make up most of their diet when they are most abundant. Because of their preferences, this species is likely to stay near water to be the most successful in their foraging efforts.
The second living species of this genus is known as the Crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus). Some people also refer to them as the South American raccoon. As one would expect, it does have the indicative “mask” with a bushy striped tail.
Same as with the Cozumel raccoon, they are smaller than the most popular species. The difference between the two can be found in the mask markings. In this species, the black fur found on the face fades behind the eyes while its close relative has a fuller mask.
They weight around 3 to 7 kilograms and typically have a body length around 54 to 65 centimeters. This species has a tail length that makes up about 50 percent of the body, which measures from 25 to 38 centimeters in total.
This species of raccoon is found within the geographical range from Costa Rica through Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. In terms of their habitat, it actually is more similar to that of the United States raccoon, who we will discuss next.
They prefer to occupy habitats that are surrounded by bodies of water including swamps, lakes, ocean beaches and lagoons. This species is highly adaptable, making home wherever they are able to have food, water and a den site. This aids them in finding plenty of food.
For the Crab-eating raccoon, they are omnivorous and open to any edible item. Although their name would suggest that they consume mainly crabs, this is not the case. Scientists have actually found that they will gravitate towards fruit.
In addition to this delectable meal, they will consume invertebrates, crustaceans, nuts, fish, frogs, insects, vegetables and even turtles. Just as with the Cozumel raccoon, these options change depending on the time of year as the seasons can be unforgiving in South American forests. There is one species of raccoon that does not have to deal with these challenges.
The Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) is one of the more widely distributed species found in the genus Procyon. One of the most distinguishable physical characteristics is its stocky build with a heavier coat. They typically weigh between 6 to 7 kilograms, though this varies depending on the environment.
Some have been found with body masses of about 50 percent body fat. The total body length ranges from 60 to 90 centimeters, with a tail of about 19 to 40 centimeters. The tail belonging to a Northern raccoon usually makes up about 40 to 50 percent of the total body length.
This species is also known as the Guadalupe raccoon due to a part of its distribution. These raccoons are found across Southern Canada and throughout the majority of the United States. In addition to these two continents, they have been expanded to live in parts of Asia and Europe, where they have learned how to thrive.
This animal, more than either of the species mentioned earlier, has had to adapt to humans. Because of this, they have been found among farmlands and urban or suburban areas. If given the option, these individuals will occupy moist woodlands where they can easily find food and make dens.
Interestingly enough, the largest portion of this species’ diet are plants. These can include grapes, nuts, cherries, apples, berries, and acorns. They will also prey upon fruits if abundant. For those living amongst farmlands, corn can be the most important meal.
In addition to plants and fruits, the Northern raccoon will eat crayfish, insects, small rodents, bird eggs, and fish. And yes, they do include trash in their diet if found near humans. In times of need, they will even prey upon carrion, or dead animals.
How do Raccoons Eat?
Being omnivores, raccoons need to be adapted for eating both meat and plant food. They can achieve this through their sharp teeth. These animals have 40 teeth altogether, 4 of which that are called the “canines”. Canine teeth are long and sharp, designed primarily for tearing food.
They also have premolars and molars that are used to grind up food before swallowing. The Raccoon doesn’t only rely on their teeth to aid them in finding and consuming food. Their hands also play a part in their diet.
You may have noticed the long fingers of a raccoon. But what are these used for? You can find the function in the name.
Interestingly, the native Powhatan word “Raccoon” translates to “animal that scratches with its hands”. These scavengers are considered to be plantigrade, meaning that they walk on their toes with the metatarsals, or heel, firmly planted on the ground. This is similar to how we walk. The way in which they scurry about actually helps them find food.
The raccoon’s paws are considered hands for their long, slender appearance. But they actually rely on these feelers in foraging.
In habitats such as a forest, leaf litter will cover food, making animals have to search for their meals. The raccoon has the advantage in this case. They can use their paws to find a preferred item, essentially “seeing” with their hands.
The fingers are extremely dexterous, or manipulative, allowing these animals to rummage in and around trash or outside bins. They have sometimes a bad reputation of being trouble-makers around urban settings, but it really is due to their finger-like adaptation.
Do Racoons Wash Their Food – and Hands?
You might have heard that raccoons are extremely tidy, washing their food items in a river before eating. Well, you might be surprised to find out that it is a myth.
In the wild, it is common to see a raccoon foraging in and around water. This is because they will often find tasty crustaceans along the water’s edge. Once locating a possible meal, they will continue to examine it, using their fingers to roll their prey around.
Although this looks like they are “washing” their food, they are simply playing with it and learning more about it. Such evidence for this is due to the fact that these animals will continue to feel their food away from water sources.
But why do they roll their meal around in their hands?
The raccoon is known for its long, spindly fingers that can grasp and manipulate. But despite these advantageous paws, they do not have opposable thumbs as humans do. Because of this, a raccoon’s grip is weaker. This is the reason why you will see them roll objects between their hands. Instead of trying to grip their prey, they roll it around as a way to hold onto it.
Do Raccoons Get Sick from Eating Trash?
Being well-adapted scavengers, raccoons are able to eat a myriad of items, including items found in our dumpster bins. You would assume that they would become ill from eating trash. This animal, however, has been able to use a few tricks in order to dump over our bins.
One of the reasons why a raccoon that eats garbage will not get ill is due to its saliva. Their spit is, in fact, more antiseptic than that of a human. If they were to consume anything that could potentially make them sick, then it is warded off with this adaptation. This species also are able to counteract the effect of toxins and microbes that would threaten to make them ill.
Another clever adaptation is their ability to be suspicious when it comes to new items. These animals are quite intelligent, learning from their mistakes. When coming across a novel food option, they will try it and then learn to avoid it if it does not agree with their system. These animals can occasionally get sick, but it is a lot less than one would perceive due to their garbage eating tactics.
What Will Make a Raccoon Sick?
The raccoon will eat almost anything that is put in front of them. This can range from fish, eggs, even rotten meat. As for what they cannot ingest, there are only a few. Due to their sensitive feet, these animals tend to avoid plants that are prickly. Certain plants will even make them feel ill, such as species found in the Nightshade family.
Do Raccoons Eat Cats?
If you’ve lived near a city or an urban area, you might have heard cats getting into fights with domestic cats. Although it would be difficult to take down a large feline, raccoons have been known to get territorial when it comes to the food that they find. Most cats that are actually killed by raccoons tend to be kittens as they cannot withstand the size of these scavengers. It is good practice to always keep your cats inside during the late evenings and nights as that is when raccoons are most active.
Do They Swim?
In this article, you have come to know that raccoons will hunt for various animals found in the water. But, will they go as far as swimming to find these resources? As a matter of fact, they can. The raccoon was not originally intended for water, but soon had to migrate to marshy areas in order to find more find.
When fully submersed in the water, it is only for a short time as they do not fully enjoy the experience. They can even swim underwater for several minutes at a time. Since they are roughly 85 percent fur, the animal is able to move about freely, even in colder water.
Raccoons have used this newer skill to enter swimming pools and streams. They do not have any adaptations linked to swimming such as webbed feet, so it is only for a short time. And oftentimes you will see a raccoon attach themselves to objects located in streams such as a tree branch to get out as quick as possible.
Do They Dig?
How to Get Rid of Racoons?
Many are concerned with how to deter raccoons from searching through their trash or stealing their dog food.
One of the best ways to get rid of these animals is to be preventative and seal off any trash or openings to your yard. Simply make your house an unappealing location.
You can also grow repellants like spices.
One last method is to scare them. Using your voice is enough to scare them off.
This “masked carnivore” is one of the most adaptable omnivores found in the world. Depending on the species, it may prey primarily on crabs or plants, but more commonly thought of is the Northern raccoon that takes advantage of our leftovers.
The next time you see a raccoon, maybe you’ll be reminded of all that they are able to achieve with finger-like paws and a nose for food.