At Tara, we often see raccoon tracks near the edge of lakes and ponds where they often go to feed. Raccoons are nocturnal, so it isn’t very common to see them in the daytime, but sometimes we see one out and about in the daylight.
Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they will feed on just about anything – fruits, crayfish, nuts, frogs, mice, insects, snakes, turtles, mollusks, worms, eggs, corn, and even our garbage!
The name for this masked mammal is derived from the Algonquian term arakun, which can be loosely translated to mean “he who scratches with his hands” (Raccoons: A Natural History by Samuel I. Zeveloff).
These masked mammals have an interesting biology with some pretty interesting abilities. These are some of our favorite facts about raccoons:
- Raccoons are good swimmers. They can swim at speeds of up to 3 miles per hour and may spend a few hours in the water.
- Their eyes may appear to glow red at night. The eyes of raccoons have a structure called a tapetum lucidum that reflects light, allowing them to see well in the dark. When a bright light like a flashlight shines directly into their eyes, they shine red!
- These mammals are pretty fast! Although you usually see raccoons rambling around at a slow pace, they can run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour, but not for very long.
- In the winter, raccoons spend a lot of time sleeping. Although they don’t hibernate, raccoons will store fat in the fall, which allows them to sleep in their dens for weeks at a time during periods of really cold weather.
- When cornered by a predator, raccoons can be fierce. Raccoons will stand up to predators and have surprising strength for their size.
- Raccoons have great dexterity. They can catch a flying insect and, as anyone who tries to keep them out of a trash can knows, they can open all sorts of latches and fasteners when they are after something.
- They have a great sense of touch. Their front paws have four times as many sensory receptors in them as their back paws. This is similar to the hands and feet of humans.
- They are probably colorblind. Since they are nocturnal, color isn’t that important for their vision, so scientists think they are probably colorblind or at least can only weakly differentiate colors.
- They sweat. Raccoons can sweat to cool off (mostly on their hands and feet); they also pant to help regulate their body temperature. Their best method for cooling off is to get into a river, pond, or stream.
- They can climb down a tree face first or feet first. Talk about control – these mammals can climb down the trunk of a tree either way. If they climb down face first, they turn their feet outwards for a better grip.