Northern Raccoon Appreciation

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

North American Raccoons are one of the most frequently admitted mammals at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. The North American Raccoon (Procyon lotor) ranges from northern Canada and most of the United States southward into Central and northern South America. In the United States, raccoons live in woods, wetlands, parks, cities, suburbs, and pretty much anywhere there are resources such as food, water, and shelter.

The English word “raccoon” is an adaptation of the native Powhatan word meaning “animal that scratches with its hands”. Originally, raccoons lived in tropical areas foraging for food along riverbanks. They are incredibly sensory constantly feeling around and touching everything. Being forced to find food along lakes and riverbanks required the adaptive ability to locate food buried in silt or mud. Raccoons have highly developed nerves in their forepaw pads. These nerves and manipulative abilities of long fingers help them to identify items serving them more like a second pair of eyes! Raccoons are able to get into food other animals typically can’t due to their nimble, handlike paws which will grasp at tree branches, fruits, and garbage can lids.

Raccoons are omnivores and opportunistic scavengers. Their diet consists of many things including grasshoppers, nuts, mice, squirrels, and bird eggs. Since they are nocturnal, they forage for most of their food at night. Don’t be alarmed if you see a raccoon out and about during the day; it does NOT mean they have rabies! In places like Sanibel with island and coastal ecosystems, raccoons will often come out to forage during low tide for shellfish and other goodies.

Interestingly enough, raccoons are rather intelligent and resourceful. A series of studies in the mid-to-late-twentieth century show raccoons can remember solutions to tasks for up to three years. A raccoon can live for up to 16 years but they often only live for an average range of three to five years old. Despite their mischeveous nature, raccoons play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. They help to maintain healthy populations, distribute seeds, cycle nutrients, and feed on carrion which helps prevent the spread of disease into waterways and soil. They may also be the ones to thank for keeping yards free of ‘pests’; they will eat wasp larvae destroying the nest, small rodents, and other insects.

Raccoons are among the few rare species who have actually benefited from human expansion. They are incredibly adaptive thriving in rural, urban, and suburban environments. In the winter, raccoons do not hibernate but they will sleep in their dens for weeks. Raccoons are excellent swimmers and can stay in water for several hours. Surprisingly enough, they can also run at speeds of up to 15 miles an hour.

At the clinic, raccoon enrichment is crucial to their development. Providing them with toys, natural greenery, coconuts, and foraging materials help them learn what will be required of them in the wild for survival. Natural enrichment is the most critical kind of enrichment for obvious reasons; it is important they have the ability to recognize natural elements of their environment. Since they are such social animals, rehabilitation staff places them in small groups so they can learn natural behaviors from each other. As they are naturally curious, rehabilitation staff limits their human interaction significantly so they don’t begin to associate humans with food and search them out once released.

Making sure baby and juvenile raccoons can thrive in the wild as adults is complex and involved. If you find a raccoon believed to be injured or orphaned, please call CROW (239) 472-3644 ext. #222 immediately. Please never try to rescue or raise a raccoon on your own. It is illegal and keeping them will not provide them with the best chance of survival. Considering babies have very sensitive gastrointestinal tracts that can be easily upset, inappropriate feeding can lead to fatal consequences.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (9/23-10/1):
There were 142 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 26 Virginia opossums, 20 eastern cottontails, 12 eastern gray squirrels, five double-crested cormorants, two common yellowthroats, a coyote, an American redstart, and a barn swallow. Recent Releases include 19 Florida softshell turtle hatchlings, a gopher tortoise, eight northern raccoons, a peninsula cooter, and a black vulture. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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