Raccoons need no introduction. With their ringed, bushy tail, yellowish brown fur (with a blackish wash) and black facemask, they are unmistakable. Only their slim, grayish-buff cousin, the ringtail
, has similar ringed tail. Adults are two to three feet long (one third of which is tail) and weigh eight to 22 pounds (heaviest in the autumn). Raccoons walk flat on their feet, as humans do, and their familiar tracks include an elongated hind foot and a hand-like forepaw.
Range: Raccoons live statewide at moderate elevations, but once they lived only along riparian corridors on the eastern plains. Raccoons have been greatly helped by permanent human settlement, development of irrigated agriculture, planting of shelterbelts and ornamental shrubs and trees, and casual disposal of garbage.
Diet: Raccoons eat just about anything: fruits, carrion, nestling birds and eggs, rodents, roosting bats, insects, crayfish and mollusks. They may damage crops, especially corn and melons. They feed near water and rinse their food, perhaps as an aid to smelling and tasting rather than because they are fastidious.
Habitat: Raccoons can be found anywhere from the dense forest to your back yard. These animals will seek out any food they can and stay close by. The raccoon in the image, was found with three others in a dumpster, and was restored to the wild.
Reproduction: Females produce a single litter of three or four young after a gestation period of about nine weeks. Blind and nearly naked at birth, the cubs have pigmented skin where their facemasks and tail rings will be. Growth is rapid, and the young are weaned by four or five weeks of age. Large owls and other predators kill raccoons, but automobiles may be the greatest cause of death today. Maximum life span is over ten years, but two or three years is average. Raccoons in Colorado are managed as furbearers.
By David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado-Bouldermausmann@aol.com
From the Frequently Asked Questions pages:
How do I keep Raccoons out of my yard or attic?
If you have raccoons living where you don't want them, the only real solution is to remove anything that might be attracting them. Try to determine why the raccoons are in your yard or attic. Are they finding food, water and shelter? Again, whatever is attracting them must be removed or cleaned up.
- Screen or cap chimneys and repair attic holes to prevent entry.
- Raccoons will nest in chimneys. They will leave on their own eventually, but to encourage them to leave, put a radio on a loud talk or rock station at the base of the chimney during the day to disturb their sleep. If they can't sleep during the day, they will move and take their family with them.
- Lock dog and cat doors at night, or seal them permanently. Pets allowed to roam outside alone are at risk for predator encounters.
- Remove overhanging branches to cut off easy access. You can also place an 18-inch cylinder of sheet metal around the trunks at least 3 feet above the ground.
- Make sure garbage and trash containers have tight-fitting lids and are clasped or tied to keep raccoons from tipping them over.
- Store garbage or other potential food sources in sheds, garages, or other enclosures, and use air-tight containers when possible.
- Remember that koi (Japanese ornamental fish) ponds can attract raccoons and other wildlife.
Electric fences may help keep raccoons out of gardens. The wires must be narrowly spaced and mounted close to the ground in order to be effective. Do not use electric fences in an area where they pose a danger to small children or pets.