The Northern Raccoon: An 'Opportunistic Omnivore'

Learn about the Northern Raccoon and how to protect your crops, livestock, and pets from this small, but clever, predator.

| January 2018

The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators (Storey Publishing, 2017), by Janet Vorwald Dohner provides information on over 50 predators and teaches readers how to protect their pets and livestock from harm. The book is a useful guide to identifying threatening species through their habits and habitats. The following excerpt is from Chapter 7, “Raccoons.”

You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators

The intelligent, black-masked raccoon has long been famed for its ability to open latches and locks, solve complex situations, and remember its solutions over time. Native American folktales often describe it as a trickster, capable of outsmarting other animals. The Powhatan word, recorded as aroughcun, was noted in the earliest days of the Virginia colonies. The Aztecs called it mapachitli, or “one who takes everything in its hands,” which became mapache in Spanish.

Columbus was the first European observer of the raccoon, originally thought to be a member of the bear family. Early explorers did not find raccoons in the central and north-central areas of the United States, suggesting that the species was limited to the wooded river lands of the southeastern states and south into Central America.

Colonists soon adopted the traditional use of the ringed tail as a hat decoration, and they widely hunted raccoons for fur and meat, often with coon-hounds bred to the task. By the 1930s, the population was severely reduced; however, the species has rebounded into the millions and greatly expanded its range.

Related to the Cozumel and crab-eating raccoon species, the Northern raccoon is commonly found from southern Canada throughout the United States, in both urban and rural areas except high mountainous elevations or very arid environments. The success of the species is linked to the loss of natural predators and their adaption to both urban and agricultural habitats. Due to escapes and deliberate releases, raccoons now inhabit some European and Asian countries, including Germany, France, Spain, the former Soviet Union, and Japan.

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