Critters in the Garden
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter
Picture a quiet residential neighborhood late at night. Several muffled thumps followed by a loud thud break the silence. Dogs bark and angry human voices command them to stop. The next morning the householder finds his trash can overturned, the soggy contents strewn about and well-picked over.
As you may have guessed, the culprit was a raccoon, Procyon lotor. Found throughout North America from Canada to Panama, it is of medium size with a grayish coat. Two of its most distinctive features are its dexterous front paws and its facial mask. It is intelligent, omnivorous, usually nocturnal and highly adaptable. It can be found in habitats ranging from mountains to coastal marshes, and escape from captivity has enabled it to become widely distributed in Europe and Asia. The raccoon often occupies human habitation where it enjoys a variety of easily found food.
Raccoon kits of two to five are born in the spring in nests in hollow trees, rock crevices, mammal burrows or buildings such as barns and attics. The female raises the young until they go off on their own late in the fall. Though they are usually solitary, groups of females will often share a common area and males may live together in groups to defend a territory.
Scientists have concluded that a raccoon washes its food to soften the hard skin on its front paws so it can feel the object and remove unwanted parts. The earlier theory that a raccoon does not have enough saliva production to moisten its food has proven incorrect.
Occasionally staff, volunteers and guests encounter a raccoon at Benjamin Pond or the upper pond hunting for tidbits. Which is an encounter I prefer to the one I had in my garage when a raccoon was dousing a charcoal briquette in the cat’s water dish. The charcoal became soggier and messier by the moment, leaving black streaks on the raccoon’s muzzle, paws and muddy globs on the floor!