Wildlife - Learning About Raccoons
General: Raccoons are well known for their curiosity, intelligence and problem solving skills. These traits, combined with their extremely dexterous front paws that can open almost any container, have helped the raccoon adapt to urban environments. They can be found in almost any neighborhood in Milwaukee County. Raccoons are related to ringtails, coatis and pandas, but are the only member of their biological family that lives in Wisconsin. The Latin scientific name for the species, lotor, means “washer,” a testimony to the raccoon’s occasional habit of dunking and rolling her food around in water before eating it. Contrary to popular belief, raccoons are not really washing their food during this activity. Raccoons have VERY sensitive pads on their front paws, and this “washing” activity helps them thoroughly explore a potential food item. The word “raccoon” itself comes from the Algonquin word “arakun”, which means “he who scratches with his hands”. Raccoons can act defensively when cornered, but generally try to avoid confrontations with humans and dogs.
Physical Characteristics: Their distinctive black masks and ringed tails make raccoons one of the most easily recognizable wild animals in Wisconsin. Their coats range from light brown to black in color. About one in 5,000 raccoons will be tan or cinnamon-colored. Raccoons have a stocky build that narrows at the head, are generally slightly larger than a house cat and in our area, usually weigh an average of about 17 pounds.
Family Life: Female raccoons are able to breed when they are one year old and usually have only one litter of three to four kits per year. The baby raccoons do not follow their mom on her nightly feeding forays until they are about two months old. Young that are born late in the summer often live with their mother through their first winter.
Diet: Raccoons are omnivorous, opportunistic scavengers that sometimes raid garbage cans and Dumpsters in urban environments. In the wild, they eat a wide variety of foods including nuts, berries, fruits, seeds, fish, eggs, crayfish and carrion.