Almost all raccoons are known to have the same markings. The burglar-like, black mask around their eyes is the telltale characteristic of a raccoon. They have gray bodies and thick fur, which keeps them warm during the winter. Their tails are striped gray and black. Their paws are black, with five dexterous toes on each one. They have a pointed nose and long whiskers. Adults range from 24-38 inches in length, and 14-23 pounds in weight. They have been compared to medium-sized bears.
Raccoons are of the family Procyonidae, which is very closely related to the bear family, Ursidae. Red pandas, first thought to be bears, are now classified under Procyonidae. Raccoons encompass 10 different species. While these species are different in size, they all appear almost identical. Raccoons developed the famed dexterity in their paws in order to find food more easily. As a result, they are able to open latches and doors, as well as jars and other implements designed for humans. They have a spiny coating on their front paws to protect them when not in use. Their back paws, however, have bare soles, which causes them to waddle when they walk.
Adult raccoons typically mate in the late winter or early spring. Their gestation period is between 63 and 65 days. Baby raccoons are referred to as kittens. They produce about 3-5 kittens per litter. The kittens are very light in color, but their masks are visible from birth. They are blind and deaf from birth until their first month of life. They may leave the den at the age of 12 weeks, but may also stay until they are 8 or 9 months old. They typically await the spring after their birth to provide warmth and food outside of the den. Raccoons in captivity can live up to 20 years, but wild ones average about 3 years of life.
Raccoons prefer areas with lots of vegetation and water, as these places are rife with food for them. Large forests are popular homes among them, but with the rise of human occupation, they have found their homes just as well among more urban environments. There are plenty of warm attics in which to attempt to build a home. Populated areas will often conserve small, wooded chases to which raccoons and other native animals may flock. Luckily, raccoons are exceptionally versatile and adaptable creatures.
Raccoons are omnivorous; they eat everything from plants and seeds to insects to small animals, road kill, fatty meat, and the like. They are expert dumpster divers, and can render a sizable meal in a populated area. Despite the origin of their meals, they are known to dunk the food in water prior to consumption. It is speculated that this is a result of their sense of touch, which is heightened when their paws are wet.
Raccoons are primarily nocturnal, but they are known to come out during the day as well. They are solitary animals, but they will form loose social circles to protect one another from threats. They build dens in which they spend the majority of their winters; they have an ardent love for their sleep. Some raccoons are able to be domesticated, but it is not advised to attempt to domesticate a raccoon, as they can attack when threatened, and may carry rabies and other diseases.
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