10 Neat Things About Raccoons
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

June 2, 2019

1. Procyon lotor.

The Latin (or Latinized Greek) name of the raccoon means: before dog ( Procyon) washer ( lotor). The specific epithet refers to raccoons dipping their food in water and rubbing it before eating it. Raccoon is from some version of the Algonquian word ahrah-koon-em, meaning one who scrubs with the hands.

2. Washing food.

Do they wash their food? It seems they do not, at least not to make it cleaner. They don't dunk their food unless there is water nearby. They seem to do it because there is a thin but stiff skin on their paws that is more pliable when wet. They can identify the food better with wet hands. The cleaning is irrelevant. I mean, these animals eat garbage.

3. The better to hear you with.

Raccoons have really good hearing. They can hear earthworms moving around underground. Wow.

4. The better to smell you with.

They also have an excellent sense of smell. They are equipped with a vomeronasal organ, something that several animals have that gives them a keener ability to distinguish scent.

5. The better to see you with.

The distinctive black band around a raccoon's eyes that makes it look like a bandit helps it see better at night, the best guess of experts suggests, by reducing glare from a lighter area under the eyes. It may also make the raccoon more immediately recognizable to other raccoons. Though with their keen sense of smell, I cannot imagine why they would need sight to recognize each other.

6. The better to feel you with.

Raccoons have four or five times as many sensory cells in their paws as most mammals. The part of the brain responsible for sensory signals is 75 per cent devoted to touch. They have vibrissae (like whiskers) on their paws so they can feel things without actually touching them. In essence, they see with their hands!

7. Blind and deaf.

They are born with their eyes and their ear canals closed, completely dependent on mama for subsistence. First their ears open at 18 to 23 days, then their eyes open a couple of days later. They continue to nurse for four months, taking in non-milk after two months.

8. Life expectancy.

Raccoons can live up to 20 years, but in the wild they have a life expectancy of 1.8 to 3.1 years. Sometimes only half of a litter makes it to a full year. They can lose their mothers, be hit by cars or become afflicted with distemper.

9. Joy of Cooking.

There was a recipe for raccoon in the first edition of Joy of Cooking, published in 1931. There were also recipes for armadillo, porcupine and woodchuck. People had a more varied diet then, at least when it came to meat.

10. Pet raccoon.

President Calvin Coolidge (1923 to 1929) and his wife, Grace, had a raccoon for a pet. She came to the White House to be served for Thanksgiving in 1926, but they kept her as a pet instead. Her name was Rebecca and she liked to eat shrimp, persimmons and eggs. She had the run of the house indoors, though she was kept on a leash outside.

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