Highly intelligent and adaptable, the raccoon ( Procyon lotor) is one of our most abundant furbearers. Raccoons associate with all types of water sources and their surrounding habitats, and can be found throughout Kansas. They are most abundant in the east where the highest interspersion of mature woodlands, water courses, and agriculture occurs. Raccoons have also become well adapted to urban and suburban areas.
With a black mask and a long, ringed tail, the raccoon is easily identifiable, but it is the pet raccoon’s habit of dipping food in water that earned it the species name “lotor,” meaning “the washer” in Latin. It is thought that by wetting the toes, the raccoon’s highly advanced tactile sensitivity is increased, improving the ability to identify a potential food source. Raccoons are omnivorous, primarily subsisting on plant materials including corn, milo, acorns, mulberries, and various other fruits, nuts, berries, and shoots. Seasonally, grasshoppers and insects are important, and fish, frogs, clams, and crayfish are preyed upon when available. Opportunistic nest predators, raccoons also prey on eggs and nesting birds, occasionally even up to the size of waterfowl and turkeys.
Raccoons are non-territorial and are capable of persisting at very high densities. Past research in prime Kansas habitat has estimated more than 40 raccoons per square mile, though densities of 20 to 25 per square mile in good habitat are probably common. Despite these high densities, raccoons are generally solitary with the exception of mothers with offspring.
Typically, three or four young are born in April or May. Though they do not hibernate, raccoons do den during freezing spells or times of snow accumulation. Fat reserves, accounting for up to 30 percent of the raccoon’s weight, are built up in the fall to get the raccoon through these cold spells and winter in general. Dens most often consist of hollow trees, but old buildings, abandoned burrows of other animals, or other available cavities are also used.
Adult raccoons are excellent swimmers, climbers, voracious fighters, and have few natural enemies. However, they are extremely susceptible to a variety of diseases and parasites. By far most important in Kansas is canine distemper. Although its precise impact is unknown, distemper may account for up to half of the mortality in unharvested Kansas populations each year. The raccoon is by far the most important furbearer in Kansas in terms of total pelt value and number harvested. Heavily pursued by both houndsmen and trappers, the raccoon has accounted for about half of the annual furbearer harvest and from 50-75% of the economic return from Kansas furharvesting in recent years.
The raccoon is also an economically important species of urban wildlife, and is the primary species responsible for the rapidly growing animal damage control industry. In the South and Southeast, raccoon meat is a popular food item, and even here in Kansas, there is limited interest in eating the meat.