Quoddy Nature Notes – Raccoons

We have three members of the Procyonidae family in the US, but only the raccoon, Procyon lotor, is here in the Quoddy region, as well as throughout the country and through Central America and southern Canada.  The raccoon (or ‘Espons’ in my Passamaquoddy Reference Book) is native only to the Western hemisphere, but has been introduced into many places like Germany, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Japan.  I wonder if cottage industries have evolved in those distant countries for exterminators to rid houses and buildings of our transplants?  Around here it may be only a few hundred dollars, but in New Jersey I read of $1800 to remove the ‘coon and plug the access entry.  Because of their intelligence, dexterity, strength, omnivorous food habits and ability to live next to people, raccoons can be and are a major nuisance.  Adult raccoons typically weigh from 10-20 pounds, but the largest on record is over 60 pounds.  In the wild their lifespan is about 5 years but in captivity they can live over 15 years.  Raccoons eat almost everything, especially anything associated with water, like frogs, snakes, snails, clams, mussels, crabs and salamanders.  A few years ago on my amphibian checks in the spring I found a half dozen dead spotted salamanders with their heads chewed off.  Even though there was no definite proof, the culprit was probably a raccoon.  Spotted salamanders, although not equipped with the toxicity of their cousin the eastern newt, apparently do have an unpleasant taste, but not enough to completely dissuade a hungry ‘coon.  Raccoons are notorious for knowing when your sweet corn is ripening, and are very skilled at harvesting it a day or two before you do.  They are not very careful or conservative about the process, and besides making a big mess, destroy or damage much more than they eat. Chickens and eggs are also fair game, especially in the late summer and early fall when the ‘coons are fattening up in anticipation of winter.  In the spring the eggs of turtles and ground nesting birds are favored.

It’s very difficult and time consuming to secure protection against the destruction of raccoons, as they are very clever, and will find any weakness in any defense system you set up.  I find that a fence or any arrangement that incorporates an electric shock is effective, as ‘coons have very sensitive paws.  Traps and the .22 caliber solution work, but must be used with caution.  Hunting ‘coons at night with dogs is a sport that seems to be more common further south.  Raccoons are the most popular fur bearing animal harvested in the US, with about 3 million harvested annually, and the skins go for about $10 to $20 each.  Coonskin caps were popular in the time of Daniel Boone, and in the roaring twenties any wag of note needed a coonskin coat to wear while dashing about in an open roadster. Raccoons are good to eat, and some authors describe the flavor as similar to lamb.  I like the taste, and prefer it in a crockpot setting.  Hunters and Ford 150’s are the only predators of adult raccoons around here, but young raccoons are harvested by owls and coyotes.

Since raccoons are very common here, a couple of cautions are in order about the many diseases common to raccoons, especially several variants of rabies. Rabies is a serious disease, but if recognized in time, treatments are available.  A more sinister malady is the ‘Baylisascaris roundworm’, a common parasite of raccoons in some parts of the country, but, fortunately, not very common here yet.  If the parasite infects a person, the worm migrates to the brain, and, according to the CDC, no cure is presently available.  The infecting vector is raccoon poop, which may contain the eggs of this parasite.  The CDC recommends considering any raccoon poop on your stairs or deck as hazardous waste, and washing the area with boiling water, as chemicals like Lysol or bleach are ineffective.

And finally, after all this, one can, with the proper permits, buy a baby raccoon online for $350.  I would strongly advise against this.  If your child needs a pet, adopt a cat from PAWS, teach the child to take care of it and keep the cat indoors.