By John Blankenship
You may have seen him now and again, crossing the highway at night, or creeping through your backyard, especially if you live in a housing development near the woods.
Actually, his scientific name is Procyon lotor, if you are interested in that kind of thing.
Raccoons are an important link in nature’s food web. The animals are beneficial to humans because of their consumption of pesky insects and mice.
Oh, they have aesthetic qualities, too.
Not to mention their fur.
They’re much sought after by folks in southern West Virginia. They afford some mighty fine chases at night over the ridges and through the woods.
They’re hardly ever caught, but that’s part of the fun.
They’re an enjoyable and lovable animal.
But they do cause some mischief: a little damage here and there. And they occasionally pose a small health problem to animals and humans. Other than that, they get along fine in their environment.
Wherever both year-round food and den sites abound, they’ll likely be there.
Their range covers most of the United States, except for the desert areas and some dense forests.
Because of their adaptability, they are found in a range of habitats from fields and farmlands to wetlands and suburban areas.
Coons are nocturnal.
They like to feed on crayfish, frogs, insects, small mammals, birds and their eggs, turtle eggs and a wide range of fruits and nuts.
That makes raccoons omnivores — a feeder of both plant and animal matter.
Garbage and pet food may comprise a significant portion of their diet in urban and suburban areas.
Here is what raccoons have to say about their habits:
If you live near the woods and you leave garbage out where we can find it, we’re going to eat it. We don’t mean any harm, but we are just taking advantage of an easy meal.
If you don’t want raccoons in your backyard at night, put away the leftovers and the pet food and we probably won’t bother you.
Hollow trees, rock crevices and rock piles provide good den sites for us. We also use hollow logs (our favorite) or abandoned animal burrows in the winter.
Raccoons mate during the winter and usually have one litter (of two to five young) per year with birth occurring in spring.
You might have seen some of our tracks showing five toes on the front and hind feet. Claw marks can usually be seen around places where we’ve been.
We get a bad rap on a number of items, damage problems mainly:
- Defacing property and contaminating areas with our droppings
- Posing a health hazard to humans and other animals
- Raiding garbage cans and pet food
- Making a meal of corn crops and poultry
- Preying on the nests of ground and shrub-nesting birds such as warblers, thrushes and others
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If you don’t want us in your neighborhood, here are some suggestions that will discourage me and other raccoons from living in and around your home and out-buildings:
- Seal off openings where we can enter, using fencing around chicken coops, and cap or screen chimneys
- Secure your garbage can lid to the can with a bungee cord (I think that’s what they call it), or construct a shed large enough to fit the garbage cans inside and attach a lock
- Do not leave pet food out (We like it).
- Use electrified wire (but not too highly charged, please!)
- Do not adopt raccoons as pets (You’ll only spoil us).
Oh, and for your own protection, let me offer a word of caution: Abnormal behavior such as appearing sick or disoriented may be a sign of rabies or distemper infection.
We do suffer from some other health problems. We may carry salmonella, ringworm (fungus), and also serve as host to the deer tick, which carry lyme disease. We can appear to be normal and still be a carrier of these and other diseases.
I don’t tell you these things to scare you, only to better educate you and your family about us. We want to get along with you folks and not be a pest.
Like I say, we’re just doing our thing. So watch out for us and don’t feed us and you won’t have any problems.
And, by the way, your ‘coon hounds are about as dumb as they come.
Top o’ the morning!
— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald.