Raccoon, Procyon lotor
Procyonidae or Raccoon Family

A medium-sized mammal, two-feet long, more or less, with a bushy foot to foot and a half tail. The fur is gray to brown with a black mask across the face, and black rings around the tail.

They are mostly nocturnal; the photograph was taken at 4:50 in the morning.. They are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Frogs, fish, and bird eggs are especially popular. In the autumn they pig out on nuts and berries, storing fat for winter. They are famous for washing their food. The specific epithet lotor means "washer," and the common names in many parts of the world translate to "washing bear." In captivity, they do show a tendency to wash their food, but that behavior has not been confirmed in the wild. Observations of wild raccoons washing their food may simply represent cases of hunting for aquatic food.

The raccoon is found all over North America from Hudson's Bay to Panama, except for the extreme north and northwest. It is also found in Europe, especially Germany, and Japan as a non-native escape. There are two related species of Procyon in the Tropics. In more isolated parts of their range, such as on Caribbean islands, raccoon populations are different enough to be considered subspecies, or sometimes even different species.

We have always assumed that raccons hang out in Wildwood, but this has now been confirmed by Biology students from Radford University using automatic trail cameras. Since they are mostly nocturnal, you are unlikely to see them in the Park, or anywhere else, except near dawn and dusk. However, they do sometimes come out in the day if food is available. I once had one on my deck in the early morning, fishing around in my waterlilies for food (he didn't find anything).

It is often said that a raccoon out in the daytime is likely to be rabid, but this is not true, as healthy raccoons do sometimes come out in the daytime. However, raccoons can be infected with rabies, so a sick-looking raccoon should be avoided. Only one confirmed case of a human getting rabies from a raccoon is known (at least up to 2003), based on Mortality Reports from the Center for Disease control. This is probably because rabies infection does not make raccoons aggressive as it does some species. It would be wise to avoid getting too close to a raccoon, ill or healthy, as they may object to your invading their personal space.

Everyone knows what a raccoon looks like, and they are not likely to be confused with any other species in Virginia.


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