Raccoons are nuisance animals that can become aggressive and spread diseases to humans and pets. They are active year-round but can be most destructive in late winter and early spring as they seek nesting or denning areas in which to birth their young.
- Raccoons are stocky with short front legs and long back legs.
- Adults are 20 to 30 inches long and weigh 10 to 35 pounds.
- They have grayish-black fur, rounded ears, and a distinguishing black "mask" over the eyes.
- They are very furry with a striped tail, having alternating light and dark rings.
- These mammals are very common throughout the United States.
- Raccoons are very intelligent. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, studies have shown that these mammals can remember how to solve tasks for up to three years.
- Raccoons are a nocturnal animal and are active year-round.
- They make their homes in several places, including the following:
Natural dens: Natural dens are found in wooded areas along streams, lakes, marshes, swamps, and farmland in hollow trees, ground burrows, brush piles, or rock.
In cities/suburbs: In these areas, you can find them in backyards, beneath decks, or in outbuildings, such as sheds, barns, or abandoned buildings.
In houses: In your house, you can find them in attics, chimneys, and the spaces beneath the home or porch.
- Like many wildlife, raccoons have their young in the spring, generally having. litters of three to six babies (kits).
- The kits stay with their mother for the first year then begin to leave as new young are born the following spring.
- They are omnivorous, eating just about anything. Preferred food includes:
Plants: Fruits, plums, gooseberries, blackberries, blueberries, dogwood berries, wild cherries, currants, wild grapes, apples, hawthorns, acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, corn, and grains.
Animals: Crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles, rabbits, muskrats, eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, and turtle eggs.
Human foods: Garden fruits, nuts, vegetables, outdoor pet food, garbage and compost scavenging, and bird feeder grains.
- To eat, raccoons use the well-developed sensory nerves on their paws to feel their food and remove unwanted parts.
Raccoon Damage and Disease
Raccoons can cause a great deal of damage to homes and yards and be threatening to human health, including:
- In gardens and yards: Raccoons will eat garden vegetables and fruit, and they will raid trash cans and eat pet food that is left outside.
- To home exteriors: Raccoons will rip off shingles, fascia boards, rooftop ventilators, and crawlspace doors to get into the home (particularly attic and crawlspace) to nest.
- To home interiors: They will use insulation for nesting as well as urinate and leave feces in the areas in which they den, leaving parasites and foul odors.
- To people and pets: Raccoons carry diseases and parasites. They can spread rabies as well as raccoon roundworm to people. Both can cause serious problems or disabilities, particularly for young children. Raccoons can also spread canine distemper and parvovirus to dogs.
This article was compiled from information on raccoons by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California.