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Mississippi State University

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)


The raccoon is a member of the family Procyonidae and is distinguished by its black facial mask and ringed tail. Raccoons are well known for their curiosity and intelligence. Raccoon population abundance and density varies greatly depending on habitat quality. Raccoon densities have ranged from 3.6 raccoons/square mile in marginal habitat to 64 raccoons/square mile in high quality habitat.

The raccoon is probably the most common and widely distributed furbearer across the southeastern United States. Raccoons have relatively low litter sizes, usually between 1-6 young. Females may breed their first year, whereas males do not breed until their second year and only the female cares for the young. The raccoon is the only southeastern furbearer that usually has its den elevated from the ground in tree cavities. In the Southeast, raccoons usually breed from March to June, but breeding may extend into July and August. Raccoons produce 1 litter per year.

Raccoons are omnivorous, consuming equal amounts of plant and animal matter, but the proportion varies seasonally and with availability. Preferred prey items include hard mast (acorns), soft mast (blackberry, wild grapes, persimmon), invertebrates (crayfish, insects), squirrels, rabbits, rats, and mice, and a diversity of birds. Additionally, the raccoon is an efficient predator of eggs of ground-nesting birds.

Raccoon home ranges generally range from approximately 50 to 1000 ha and males maintain larger home ranges than females. Raccoons select a wide variety of habitat types, but predominately use mesic and hydric forested environments more than xeric upland forests. Typically, bottomland hardwood forests or forests adjacent to streams and rivers are selected, if available. Mature forests are used frequently during spring and summer, presumably because of the female's need for suitable den sites. Upland sites may be used by raccoons during some seasons, likely due to increasing abundance of fruits.

Raccoons are susceptible to several noteworthy diseases, including one having importance to humans (rabies) and another that may significantly reduce local raccoon populations (canine distemper). Raccoons infected with rabies often wander aimlessly or suffer paralysis. Rabies is transmitted through being bitten by an infected animal or exposure to saliva of an infected animal. Rabies is serious, thus suspected rabies in any animal should be handled in a proper manner. The canine distemper virus is highly infectious to raccoons and occurs throughout the species' range. Distemper often occurs at levels classified as outbreaks and may drastically reduce local raccoon populations. Distemper is transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or their fluids, but is not infectious to humans.