SMALL ANIMALS

Raccoon

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Description:


The most distinctive feature of the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is certainly its black mask which gives it a mischievous air. Raccoons are usually greyish in colour, and their tails have five to ten rings, sometimes black, sometimes brown. Their body colour can vary from white (albinism) to black (melanism) or brown. The annual moult (change of coat) begins in the spring and lasts about three months. The head is broad, the muzzle pointed and the ears short and rounded (4 to 6 cm). The eyes are black. The body and tail measure on average 80 cm in total in adults, the size of the males being usually 25 p. 100 higher than that of females. Raccoons in northern latitudes tend to be heavier (between 6 and 8 kg) than their congeners in southern regions (4 kg). However, adults weighing up to 28 kg have been observed in the fall.

Food:


Omnivorous, the raccoon eats almost everything, this food can be of both plant and animal origin. It prefers corn, crayfish, fruits and nuts, but its diet varies with the seasons. In spring it eats invertebrates animals (small animals without a backbone) and insects. It mainly searches for crayfish, but it also eats muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, waterbird eggs and freshwater clams. In summer, plants including fruits and nuts entice it more. It then delights in wild cherries, redcurrants, elderberries, wild grapes, strawberries as well as potatoes and sweet corn. It also feeds on frogs, small fish, turtles, chafer larvae, earthworm locusts, crickets and snails during the summer months. In most areas where it grows, corn is the main component of the fall diet, but acorns, bees, hazelnuts and grapes are also in demand. The animal does not hesitate to plunder the nests of insects, such as hornets, bumblebees, termites and ants to devour the larvae (first stage of development). Its thick autumn and winter coat protects it from stinging irascible hornets or bees. The fall diet is extremely important to the northern raccoon as it needs to accumulate sufficient fat reserves for winter. The entire body, including the tail bone, is covered with a layer of fat that can reach 2.5 cm thick on the back. In fact, it can constitute more than half of the total weight of the animal at the end of autumn. In the northern regions, the raccoon lives on its adipose (fat) reserves during the winter, while further south, where nuts and corn abound, it continues its search for food throughout the year. On the outskirts of cities, it is often seen rummaging through garbage cans or patrolling lawns for earthworms, chafer beetles and larvae. It can also be harmful to farmers since it can sometimes attack poultry and take eggs.

Habits:


The raccoon can live in a variety of habitats. It seems to need only a source of water, food and shelter. It prefers swamp hardwoods, floodplain forests, salt marshes and freshwater marshes, and cultivated or abandoned farmland. In the prairies, it will most often opt for woodlands and wetlands. Very adaptable, it is also frequently found in many cities in North America. The movements and territory of the raccoon vary greatly depending on the habitat, population density and food sources. The territory represents the area where the animal finds food, water and shelter during its daily movements. In the agricultural sectors of eastern North America, the territory of the raccoon varies between 1 and 4 km² while it can reach 50 km² on the prairies. In contrast, it has been established that it covers less than 0.1 km² in an urban environment. Usually, these areas overlap and little territorial behaviour has been observed, particularly in cities. Population density also varies greatly depending on the type of habitat. Thus, it is estimated that agricultural environments often host five to ten raccoons per square kilometre, while we have already noted an exceptional density of 100 individuals per square kilometre in urban areas. However, a density of barely one animal per square kilometre is sometimes seen on the prairies. In the northern United States and southern Canada, the annual life cycle of the raccoon includes a breeding season in late winter and early spring, a growing and fattening period in the summer and fall, and a period of winter numbness. Further south, we can observe this state of winter torpor only in bad weather. Winter numbness allows the raccoon to conserve its energy in the form of fat reserves during times of food shortage. It is a period of inactivity rather than a true hibernation. The body temperature does not drop and the ambient temperature seems to regulate the activity of the animal. Hollow trees, stumps, logs, caves, unoccupied groundhog or fox burrows, as well as barns or other such buildings, are among the raccoon's favourite shelters. In an urban environment, he can opt for a house fireplace, a sewer, a garage, an attic, a tree or a culvert. Adult males are often alone in their roost, but it is not uncommon to see a family spend their first winter together. Community burrows of up to 23 individuals have already been observed, but most often have four or five. Even if he only uses one lodging during the winter, the raccoon has several shelters for the other seasons.

Reproduction:

Breeding usually begins in late January or early February in the northern part of the range. In most areas, mating occurs mainly in March. The young are born most often in May even if some births have already been observed as early as March or even at the end of September. Sometimes, however, the raccoon from the southern region mates throughout the year. Polygamous, the male will fertilize several females successively. The female, on the other hand, is monogamous and, after mating with a male, she will repel all the others. Often young females mate in the first year. As for young males, even if they are able to reproduce, they usually do not have the opportunity until their second year because of the rivalry of their elders. Litters tend to be larger in northern regions since it is not uncommon for them to have between three and seven young, while they are normally two or three further south. Gestation (a period during which the mother carries her young) lasts an average of 63 days. At birth, the young have no teeth, their eyes are closed and they weigh around 75 g. The teeth will pierce 19 days later while the eyes will open at the age of two and a half weeks. About ten days after birth, the young already wear the mask and coat characteristic of the species. The latter remain in the maternal shelter for approximately eight weeks: they then accompany their mother in her quest for food, even if they are not completely weaned before the age of two months. The male does not participate in their breeding. The family unit is made up of the mother and her young. They are quite sociable, looking for food together at night and sharing the same den during the day. During the first summer, the mother shows her young how to climb, hunt and swim. The family does not usually dissolve until the next litter arrives, usually the following spring. Young males often leave the mother's territory while young females can remain around. The longevity of the species would vary between three and five years in the wild; the majority of the population is completely replaced in seven years. However, longevity records of 12 and 16 years respectively have been observed in individuals in captivity and in the wild.

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