Raccoon Facts and Habitats

The adaptable raccoon has learned to prosper in rural and urban areas, learn more raccoon facts including the history of the raccoon, food sources, and habitats of the raccoon.

| January/February 1987

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    The adaptable raccoon is at home whether up the creek or out on a limb.
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    Map: Distribution of the raccoon in north America.

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The adaptable raccoon has learned to prosper—even in our capital. 

Raccoon Facts and Habitats

It would be stretching things to say that raccoons are taking over Washington, D.C. But not by all that much. Dr. John Hadidian, an urban wildlife specialist at the National Park Service's Center for Urban Ecology in Washington, estimates that more than 600 of the ring-tailed creatures make their home in the capital city's 1,700-acre Rock Creek Park alone. And though the city's roving raccoons won't hold still for a head count, their total D.C. population may top 8,000. That's a lot of scurrying things to go bump in the night.

It's not so much that raccoons are enamored of the Reagan administration, Congress, or the masses of humanity D.C. has to offer. It's just that the intrepid little beasts are so remarkably adaptable that they don't know when, or where, to quit. In fact, the raccoon is possibly the most adaptable wild mammal in North America, having firmly established itself from southern Canada to Central America, and in all 48 contiguous states between.

The name raccoon comes from the Algonquian arakun, meaning "scratcher." And scratchers coons most certainly are. Equipped with five long, nimble, unwebbed fingers on each forepaw, they're extremely touch-oriented creatures. But the German name for the animal is even more descriptive: wasberen, or "wash bear." Not only does the raccoon resemble a small bear in appearance, habit, appetite, and the human-like tracks it leaves behind, but it can claim at least a tenuous genetic relationship to the bears in that it belongs to the same family (Procyonidae) as the lesser panda (genus Ailurus) of eastern Asia.

The raccoon's scientific title is Procyonlotor. Procyon is Latin for something like "before the dogs." Scientific or no, the term procyon is a bit misleading, since coons evolved, not before, but more or less in parallel with, the canine, with the two species sharing the same early ancestors. The second part of the raccoon's scientific name, lotor, means "washer." That's more apropos, for, as the German wasberen also indicates, the creature has a distinctive habit of dunking its food before eating it.

Which brings us to the Great Coon Quandary.


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