By Terri Estes

Racoons are fascinating creatures with a range of qualities that make them unique in the animal kingdom.  They have a high level of intelligence and are excellent problem solvers. They are capable of learning and adapting to new situations quickly. Their dexterity and problem-solving skills are one of the reasons that they are unpopular, and are considered by some to be pests, especially when they invade our properties.

Raccoons are actually adorable animals. They are very playful and are known to engage in games and explore their surroundings with curiosity. A full-grown raccoon is about the size of a medium-sized dog, measuring 16 to 28 inches in length, with a bushy striped tail. Their fur is dense and primarily grey to brown in color.  Their most distinctive feature is their black mask of fur that covers their eyes and extends across their cheeks, giving them a bandit-like appearance.

Raccoons are excellent climbers. They have strong hind legs that give them power and agility to leap from branch to branch and climb vertically.  Their flexible ankle joints enable them to rotate their hind feet nearly 180 degrees, which helps them descend from trees headfirst. However, the most marvelous thing about raccoons is their front paws.  These paws are very similar in structure to human hands, with 5 flexible toes and sharp claws.  These paws provide them with a strong grip and excellent grasping ability, making them skilled at handling objects.  They have been known to open containers, turn doorknobs and even unlatch gates with these hand-like paws.

If the raccoon wasn’t so cunning and smart, he wouldn’t be considered a problem or a nuisance.  Let’s face it, when it’s cold outside, why sleep in a tree, when he can figure out how to break into a nice warm attic?  And why eat wild berries, when he can twist the lid off your garbage can with his hands and have some leftover spaghetti and meatballs?  The raccoon is very adaptable. They have learned to thrive in a variety of environments, including urban areas.  They are omnivorous and can survive on a widely varied diet.  They are nocturnal and mostly active at night, which is when they hunt for food, or raid our garbage cans.

Raccoons aren’t going away.  Our best plan of action is to learn to live with them.  If you have a pesky raccoon making a mess of your garbage, invest in a raccoon proof garbage can.  Tighten up garages and attics so as not to invite this unwanted masked bandit into your home.  They were here long before we were, and they will be here long after we are gone, so why not learn to enjoy these amazing animals!

Photo By Sean Fitzgerald


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