If you live in an area known for having wild raccoons, you’ve probably heard people refer to these animals as “masked bandits” or “varmints.”
The nicknames are justified. Raccoons are furry nocturnal mammals about the size of a cat or a small dog, with nearly the same intelligence as macaque monkeys. They have highly dexterous and hyper-sensitive front paws that work like human hands. Because they’re nocturnal, raccoons also have good eyesight and hearing. Their most memorable features, however, are the distinct markings on their fur: black and gray-striped tails, and mask-like black fur patches over their dark beady eyes, making them look like little masked thieves.
Raccoons will steal food anywhere, whenever they can. They are highly omnivorous, eating fruits, nuts, insects, worms, fish, amphibians, bird eggs, and (sometimes) small birds and small mammals. They are more like opportunistic foragers rather than hunters, and do their foraging mostly at night. But they’re just as capable of searching for food in the day, if they discover there’s more food at that time.
It’s the raccoons nocturnal foraging habits that make them pesky “varmints” to homeowners, farmers, and even whole communities. Because of their intelligence and dexterous hands, raccoons will –and can—dig up lawns and uproot whole gardens, tip over and open garbage containers, climb trees, hang upside down, open simple windows, go inside homes, garages, sheds or barns, even making a nest inside these, all just to find more food. Raccoons are quick, agile, and smart enough to figure out how to open simple locking mechanisms. Once they learn how to do something, raccoons remember how to do the same task again in the future. They adapt well to living alongside humans.
Apart from raccoons nocturnal habits, raccoons breed often during seasons of more sunlight (summer and spring), ensuring a litter of two to five young kits are born to each female. Raccoons will defend their established territory or home, and mark the boundaries with the odor of their urine or feces. So if your garden or shed has been taken over by the creatures, you’ll eventually smell the raccoons nocturnal markings.
If you live near raccoon territory, and have a swimming pool in your home, don’t be surprised if you find raccoons swimming and “washing” their food in it, mucking it up. Raccoons have a natural instinct for washing their food in water, especially it’s aquatic food like fish. Washing helps soften the food’s surface, allowing the raccoons to get a better feel of it, identify what parts are rotten, and pry those off before eating.
You may still find raccoons nocturnal cute. But the problem with having them around is that they carry parasites and diseases that may affect both humans and their pet animals. Most dangerous of all is rabies, which raccoons carry in their blood often. If you encounter raccoons that look infected, contact your local animal control authorities to capture them and treat them safely.