The raccoon, Procyon lotor, is a stocky nocturnal mammal distinctly marked with a prominent black ‘mask’ over the eyes and a heavily furred, ringed tail. The fur is a grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black, although some individuals are washed with yellow. While they are not normally aggressive and rarely injure people, they can be dangerous when threatened or cornered. They are wild animals and should be treated accordingly. Wild animals do not make good pets.

Adults are about 2 to 3 feet long and weigh 15 to 30 pounds. They are excellent climbers and have very dexterous forepaws.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Raccoons are easily identified when seen, but being nocturnal, they may be in close proximity and not be seen. They are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods, including small animals (such as crayfish, fish, frogs, snails, small mammals, poultry, and insects), vegetables, and fruit. Raccoons are particularly fond of sweet corn and know when it is ripe. Broken stalks and/or open husks indicate raccoon damage. Watermelons are another treat as they dig through the rind, reach in, and pull out the contents with their paws.

Raccoons may cause severe damage and be quite a nuisance. Their distinctive hand-like footprints left in soft soil, mud, or sand can provide evidence of their involvement. They will occasionally kill poultry and eat eggs, leaving behind the cracked shell. They may also climb and destroy bird feeders. Their sharp claws can puncture the rubberized lining of water gardens as they hunt for fish or frogs.

Life Cycle

Raccoons are promiscuous and breed in late winter or early spring. The gestation period is 63 days. The typical litter consists of 3 to 4 young, rarely up to 7, born around April or May in a sheltered den, usually a hollow log, tree, or rock crevice. Raccoons are sociable animals in their family group. After two months of age, the young accompany the mother on excursions for food and may travel several miles. The family group may remain intact for about a year. Raccoons prefer hardwood forest habitats since they require trees, bushes, and other cover for protection. Raccoons are adaptable to environmental changes and can live close to human developments that include city life. During the fall and winter months (November through March), they may den in their home quarters during the coldest periods. This is not true hibernation, as the raccoons will wander out during warm spells.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

1. Building damage. Damage or nuisance problems around houses and outbuildings are caused when the raccoons try to enter attics, crawl spaces, or chimneys. They may tear off shingles or fascia boards. Cover possible access points with heavy wire screening. Also, tree access to rooftops should be eliminated by pruning overhanging limbs and by placing a piece of tin loosely around the trunk, flaring it out like an upsidedown funnel.

The chimney can be like a hollow log. To keep raccoons from taking up residence, place a heavy screen cap over the chimney and cement in place.

2. Keep smelly garbage in plastic bags indoors, or build a garbage shed.

3. Household animals. Dogs are not an effective method of keeping raccoons away. Keep pets indoors at night. Do not put out food for raccoons or other wildlife and never leave pet food where wildlife can get it.

4. Fish ponds. Wire screening is the best protection from raccoons for fish in ornamental ponds.

5. Fencing. A single or double strand of electrical fence can effectively stop raccoons. Two wires are recommended with one wire six inches above the ground. The fence can be activated at dusk and turned off at daybreak. Electric fences should be used with care and caution signs installed. This is an effective but expensive method to protect your garden.

6. Scare tactics and repellents have little, if any, effect.

7. Trapping. A 15 x 15 x 36 inch single door live trap baited with fish, fish-based pet food, meat, or eggs is sufficient. This will also attract cats.

8. Hunting. Hunting can be a very effective method to reduce raccoon populations in a given area. Shooting, however, is prohibited in most cities. Hunting raccoons is allowed in some states for their fur. It is advisable to check with local authorities such as game wardens or animal control officers before hunting.