The common Raccoon or "Procyon lotor" is native to North and South America. It can also be found in Europe and parts of Asia, having been introduced to those countries as an "invasive" species in the mid-1800s. Commonly seen as neighborhood pests and known as midnight garbage eaters, the raccoon is a highly intelligent and thoughtful hunter.
Raccoons prefer forested and rocky areas, building nests in the hollows of trees or small rock crevasses. Being highly adaptive creatures, raccoons are equally at home in the city, finding lodging in abandoned buildings, under bridges and even in the chimneys of apartment buildings. Their climbing ability is unmatched, being able to descend almost any structure head first. The sharp claws and dexterous hands enable the raccoon to reach difficult areas with ease, which can be both advantageous and dangerous to the animal's well being.
The raccoon is both nocturnal and omnivorous. Although it's bound to eat almost anything in its path, the raccoon's main diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, larvae, small birds, eggs and other small mammals. The raccoon exhibits a peculiar behavior while eating, in that, it will douse its food in water before consumption. Thought initially to be a "cleaning" behavior, wildlife biologists have since agreed that this is most likely not the case as raccoons will make the same "dousing" motions with food even with no water present. Therefore, this behavior remains unexplained, at least by science.
With their tail included, raccoons can measure between 25 - 40 inches long and weigh up to 30 - 35 pounds. The tail of a raccoon, with its black and white stripes, is very similar to that of its cousin the Ringtail. The raccoon itself is medium dark brown with a distinctive black mask across its eyes, similar to that of the Lone Ranger or Zorro. This black mask across the eyes on the animal only enhances its reputation as a sly and sneaky backyard trash eater.
Other physical characteristics include small, pointed ears and a long snout. Raccoons mate during the early spring with a female gestation period of about 63 days with 2-4 cubs being born in late spring / early summer. After mating, the male will leave the female alone to gestate on her own. Raccoon cubs are born blind and helpless so the female will generally nurture her cubs for about 4 months, teaching them to forage and build a nest. After that time, the cubs are on their own.
Unlike their cousin the Ringtail, the raccoon makes a poor pet and it is illegal in most states to keep one as such. The few that do allow pet raccoons require an exotic animal permit. In general, however, people are highly discouraged from keeping these animals in captivity.
Raccoons also carry a variety of diseases, most notably, Rabies. Raccoons are thought to be responsible for over 50% of all reported human rabies cases in America. While they are cute animals, approaching a raccoon is extremely dangerous due to their unpredictable behavior and razor sharp claws. Raccoons are also quite strong for their size and very hard to fend off if they attack. If approached by a raccoon, make noise and stomp your feet until the animal turns away.