One of the most iconic John Candy and Dan Aykroyd movies to surface out of the 80’s has to be The Great Outdoors. Who can forget their ill fated excursion to the Northwoods and the comedic mishaps along the way? One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the family of raccoons would repeatedly come in the night, ransack the garbage cans and talk to each other as an upbeat jazz tune played in the background. Raccoons seem to always be portrayed in Hollywood as hilarious, mischievous, and sarcastic little creatures; case in point Pocahontas’ side-kick Miko and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket, to name a few. Raccoons are one of the number one animals caught and called about at Advanced Wildlife Control. They are as cute and cuddly looking as they are destructive and obnoxious when they’ve decided to camp out in or around your home. So if you’ve ever wanted to learn a little bit more about our masked “trash panda” friends, this is the blog for you.
Raccoons are native to the United States and one of Wisconsin’s most prevalent furbearers. The most common types in the area are the North American Coon, Northern Raccoon, and the Common Coon. They are a medium sized mammal ranging in length from 16-28 inches from head to hinder and weigh anywhere from 8-20 pounds. Although, in my research, I found that the largest recorded raccoon ever caught was a whopping 62.6 lbs and measured 55 inches long…that’s like finding a stubby gray Golden Retriever in the woods! Typically they have a grey/brown coat and dense undercoat, a distinctive black “mask” surrounding their eyes that help with night vision, and a ringed black and white tail. They are highly intelligent and curious and tend to be fairly social animals- often staying in their family groups for months or seasons before dispelling out on their own. Raccoons are mostly nocturnal creatures, seeking their burrows or dens for sleep during the day- however, nursing mothers have been known to venture out during the day to find food so it is a misconception that ALL raccoons out during the day are sick.
Their name is derived from the Native American word “Ahrah-koon-em” meaning “the one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands”. They have extremely dextile fingers- but no opposable thumbs; their sense of touch is their most important sense. They often wash or “douse” their food in water as they eat. When climbing down trees headfirst their back feet rotate and face upwards instead of downwards in the direction they are climbing. Raccoons are not exactly very agile and fast animals, they cannot run or jump very fast or far but they can swim for long periods of time. They prefer a habitat of trees and tree hollows or burrows dug by other animals. Typically, males and females will mate between January and March depending on the severity of the season. Their babies are born after a short gestational period of just 65 days in the spring. On average a raccoon mother will deliver 2-5 babies (adorably) named “kits”. Most wild raccoons will live between about 2-3 years, captive and domestic raccoons can live to about 20 years.
Most of the raccoon calls we receive on a daily basis are from homeowners that have discovered that these determined and sneaky little guys have decided to make a home out of their garage, tree, under their deck, or worse-their attics. Or we get the occasional call that while attempting to throw away their trash in the garbage can, a homeowner discovers that a curious raccoon has gotten itself trapped in said garbage can and cannot get back out. If a raccoon takes up residence in your attic it can cost several 1,000 dollars to repair which is why we try to be proactive about removing the animals as soon as a resident realizes they’re there. If you’ve ever seen anything wild make a den or bed for themselves you’ll know that it involves a lot of fur, urine/feces, and parasites- which is multiplied five fold if they give birth to a litter there as well. And let’s not forget the smell. I think it goes without saying you don’t want these animals to call your home, home-sweet-home as well, for very long.
Earlier I kind of touched on what it could mean if you see a raccoon out during the day. In a rare case a nursing mother is out and about gathering food during the day- this is not usually cause for concern, however, if you do see a raccoon out during the day that appears sick or is acting quite unusually then it most likely has contracted either Distemper or Rabies and needs to be trapped immediately. Rabies is transmitted by saliva in bites. It started in Florida and Georgia in the 1950’s and has spread in the subsequent years. Currently, there is an oral vaccination for the treatment of rabies, only one person has reportedly died after contracting the virus. Symptoms of a Rabies infection are a generally sick appearance, impaired mobility (seemingly drunk demeanor), abnormal vocalization and aggressiveness. Typically they will often retire to their dens if infected.
Distemper is the number one cause of mortality in raccoons, and unlike rabies, it does not affect humans. Distemper is a viral disease affecting the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include a high fever, eye inflammation, eye/nose discharge, labored breathing or coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite and hard nose and paws. It is highly contagious and contracted through inhalation and fatal 50% of the time.
Both Rabies and Distemper can be spread to other animals; if you have pets or dogs in particular, you should keep them updated with shots and seek a vet if you start to see them displaying any of the referenced symptoms. As a reminder, killing or relocating any raccoons without a permit is forbidden and illegal- not to mention ill advised, as they can be unpredictable and/or potentially carrying disease and should be handled by professionals. If you ever see a sick raccoon please stay away from it and give us a call- we’ve got your back!
Thank you for tuning in, Andrea signing out!