The North American Raccoon is the only animal we have at the farm that is native to Florida! However they are found all over North America, with an impressive range spanning as far south as Panama to as far north as the Southern provinces of Canada. Their population has exploded since the early 1900’s, expanding their territory and numbers to what we know it as today. The multitude of environments raccoons can survive in mean that they have to come in all different shapes and sizes. All together there are over 20 different recognized subspecies, with Florida having four of them alone! Raccoons average between 10-60 pounds, but here in Florida we have smaller raccoons due to the amount of heat.
Raccoons of course have their very iconic mask – a dark circle of fur around their eyes contrasting with their lighter fur on the rest of their face. While they may have evolved it so they can commit their heinous crimes without revealing their true identity, scientists believe it reduces glare for night vision and helps raccoons read each other’s facial expressions.
Raccoons are omnivorous, meaning they will eat pretty much anything they can get their mouth on. The breakdown is pretty well balanced with 40% invertebrates, 33% plants, and 27% vertebrates. They have 40 teeth in their mouth, featuring canines not quite as sharp as other carnivores and molars not quite as wide as herbivores, all to help with their balanced diet.
So what does “raccoon” mean anywho? It roughly translates to “bear who washes” or “washer bear”. Raccoons are closer related to bears than they are to other carnivora (dogs and cats) and are well known for their “washing” or “dousing” behavior. They will take food items, dip them in water and then proceed to rub them around – giving the appearance of washing them clean. In the wild, this only ever happens when they feed in or very close to a stream, but in captivity they have made it a permanent habit.
Hands are very important tools for raccoons. Raccoons have tiny little whisker-like hairs at the ends of their paws that can identify objects BEFORE they touch them! Around 2/3 of their brain’s sensory region is dedicated to their sense of touch, which is more than any other studied mammal. It doesn’t stop there though, raccoons also know how to use those puppies! They’ve been recorded opening numerous locks in all different orientations, leading scientists to conclude they actually understand the internal mechanisms!
Raccoons have had an interesting history with people to say the least. From being the pet of a former U.S. President (shout-out to Calvin Coolidge), to being introduced to Europe and Japan, and now being labeled as pests, they really have run the gambit. There are a couple of widespread misconceptions that we’d like to clear up here once and for all.
Raccoons are sometimes thought of as “dirty” animals because they like to hang around our garbage cans cleaning up the scraps, but they’re actually very clean when it comes to their bathroom habits. Raccoons will always use a latrine area, that’s one spot where they pee and poop. They do this in the wild and in captivity, and as long as they didn’t pick your attic, it’s usually a good thing! In California they found a latrine area that was used by over 100 raccoons, so it was like one really big public bathroom.
The other misconception regards rabies. Raccoons do carry rabies, that is a fact and they even contribute to a rather large proportion of reported rabies cases in the U.S. annually. HOWEVER, it is important to distinguish that raccoons are occasionally active during the day, especially a mom that has babies, so seeing a raccoon during the day does not mean that it has rabies. Additionally, most raccoons with rabies have not shown the aggressive behavior associated with the disease, so you should know the other signs as well – sickly appearance, impaired mobility, and abnormal vocalization. There is also a disease that can display rabies-like symptoms in raccoons that is far more common, and in fact is their leading cause of death; distemper. Distemper does not affect humans.
Now let’s talk about our two little knuckleheads, Munchkin and Sprinkles. Munchkin and Sprinkles came to the farm in May of 2022. A local veterinarian saw two baby raccoons by his canal, he watched them for a couple of hours and when mom never came around he decided to scoop them up and bring them to the farm. When the raccoons got here they were both in very bad shape and it was clear that hadn’t seen their mom in quite some time. Sprinkles was unable to open her eyes because they were too gunked up, which was quickly remedied through regular cleanings and hydration, but she still has to get them cleaned up every few days meaning she wouldn’t make it in the wild. Since raccoons are social animals, and there are even places that require you to keep two together, we decided to keep both sisters together at the sanctuary. Hopefully we can use both of them to educate the public about these misunderstood animals.