Habits

Are Raccoons Fussy Eaters?

Not at all! Raccoons are happy to dine on a wide variety of foods. Although they are carnivores, they will eat plants as well as meat. In fact, they will eat just about anything they can find.

While raccoons are not fussy eaters, they find their favorite foods in or near the water. Raccoons love fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, and other freshwater animals. But they also like fruits, nuts, seeds, bird eggs, grasshoppers, and small animals such as mice.

Raccoons are also scavengers. That means that they will eat what humans or other animals leave behind.

Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?

No, probably not. But raccoons do have an unusual habit. They often dunk food into water before eating it.

The scientific name for the northern raccoon is procyon lotor (PROH see ahn LOH tuhr), which means “washing bear.” It is easy to see how the raccoon got this name. A raccoon’s fur looks a lot like that of a grizzly bear, and a raccoon often seems to wash its food.

Scientists once wondered if raccoons really washed their food. So they watched raccoons in captivity. The animals did dunk their food into water—if there was water around. But even if there was no water, the animals still went through the same dunking motions. The scientists concluded that the raccoons were just imitating something they did in the wild when they fished for food.

What Do Raccoons Do at Night?

Raccoons are mostly nocturnal (nahk TUR nuhl), or active at night. Usually, they sleep during the day and then go out at night in search of food.

Most often, raccoons leave their dens soon after sunset. They head straight for the nearest food source. Ponds, rivers, and lakes supply their favorite meals. Farm fields offer corn and other vegetables. Garbage cans in areas where people live provide tasty surprises.

At sunrise, tired raccoons find dens to snuggle up in for a long day’s rest. However, sometimes raccoons also hunt for food during the day.

Do Raccoons Hibernate in Winter?

Raccoons do not really hibernate. Animals that hibernate go into a deep sleep that can last for most of the winter. Their heart rates slow down, and their body temperatures drop.

While raccoons don’t hibernate, those that live in cold climates sleep for long periods of time during winter. They may stay in their dens for several weeks at a time. But on mild days, these raccoons often wake up. They go out in search of food. Once the weather gets cold again, they return to their dens and go back to sleep.

During their long periods of sleep, raccoons do not eat. Without food, they can lose up to one-half of their total weight! To prepare for these difficult times, raccoons eat more than usual in late summer and fall. This adds more and more fat to their bodies. Raccoons rely on this fat to survive cold winters.

Are Raccoons Loners?

Most raccoons are loners. They spend a lot of time alone—especially if they are males.

A male raccoon lives in a den with a female only during mating season. The male leaves the den long before the baby raccoons are born.

Of course, a mother raccoon must stay with her babies, or cubs. As mammals, the cubs need to be nursed. Cubs usually stay with their mother until the end of their first winter. After they leave, she will be alone until she mates and gives birth to a new family.

During a harsh winter, a group of raccoons may band together. This group can consist of many females, but only one male. The group may share a den during the winter. But once spring arrives, most go their separate ways.

How Does a Mother Raccoon Care for Her Cubs?

A female raccoon can give birth to up to eight babies at once, usually in the spring. Before the babies are born, the expectant mother looks for a den high off the ground where she will give birth. An elevated den helps protect the cubs from many kinds of enemies.

Newborn cubs are both blind and deaf. They weigh about 2 1/2 ounces (71 grams) and are about 6 1/2 inches (16.5 centimeters) long. Their tails make up about one-third of their length.

The small and helpless cubs depend on their mother for food and protection. A mother raccoon cares for her cubs by nursing them with her milk. Her milk helps the cubs grow stronger. A mother raccoon also cares for her young just by lying with them. As the cubs snuggle up to her, her body gives off heat that helps keep them warm.

How Do Cubs Become Adults?

By the time the cubs are 5 to 9 weeks old, they are ready to explore areas outside their den. So the mother then moves them to a den closer to the ground. When they are about 8 to 11 weeks old, she takes them with her to search for food. By 16 weeks, the cubs are weaned off their mother’s milk. From this point on, the cubs must find their own food.

Most raccoon cubs spend their first winter sharing a den with their mother. But by spring, all offspring set off on their own.

The first order of business for the young raccoons is to find their own territory. By the end of their first year, they will be able to mate and have cubs. In the wild, raccoons can live to be about 5 years old.

Do Raccoons Travel Much?

Yes, they do. How far raccoons travel depends on several things. They move around looking for food, water, and dens. If these things are close by, raccoons don’t need to roam very far.

Both male and female raccoons form territories. A male raccoon does this by rubbing against a tree or a rock. Doing this leaves a scent that warns other males to stay away.

A male raccoon usually keeps a territory to himself, but sometimes females may share part of it with him. A male’s territory covers about 100 to 250 acres (40 to 100 hectares). However, a male may roam as far as 10 miles (16 kilometers) to get food or to find a mate.

A female raccoon usually has a much smaller territory. Since she is often caring for a family, she is less able to travel. A mother raccoon must stay put in one den until her young are ready to explore outside the den.