The Habitat, Biology And Mating Habits Of The Raccoon
The raccoon is an animal which is native to the North American continent, and has also been introduced to several countries in Europe and Asia. They are known for being intelligent and adaptable animals which has allowed their population to continue to flourish as human settlements have developed across much of the United States. While raccoons may have become a pest animal in many areas, their long history of living alongside humans has also meant that they have played an important role both for their meat and for their fur.
The Biology Of The Raccoon
The size of raccoons can vary quite significantly depending on how hostile their habitat is and the abundance of food, but in most cases they will be between 24 inches and 42 inches in length including their large tail, and will usually weigh between 8 and 20 pounds. They are animals that are at their largest when they have stored fat ready for the winter, and will usually be larger in colder habitats, while they grow to a smaller size in warmer climates.
One of the interesting aspects of their biology is that they have good dexterity in their front paws, and they will often stop to examine food or other items in their front paws as they stand on their rear paws. Those rear paws can also be turned around to face the other way, which means that these remarkable animals are one of the few mammals that can climb down a tree head first.
The raccoon's coat is one which has adapted to give them good protection from both hot and cold weather, with the dense underfur making up the thickest part of the coat, providing raccoons with great warmth during cold weather. For periods of above average temperatures, the raccoon is also able to sweat through their pores to release heat, along with being able to pant to lower their temperature. The fur of the raccoon has also developed a distinctive set of facial markings, with black fur around the eyes which gives the raccoon the distinctive 'bandit's mask' appearance.
Raccoons are very adaptable animals, and while their original habitat was in forests and woodland, their intelligence and ability to find food in many different areas mean they can now be found in marshes, mountainous areas and in many urban areas. Raccoons will usually be seen by themselves, but they will share their territory with a small group of other raccoons, with related females living in groups, while unrelated males will also share their habitat with a small group of males. This will allow the group of males to protect their territory against animals or other raccoons who might want to invade their territory. Raccoons mark their territory using a scent in their urine, and depending on their surroundings, that territory can be up to 20 square miles in wide open areas down to a much smaller area where there are abundant sources of food.
Raccoons will usually avoid areas that have beech trees, as the bark of these trees is quite smooth and makes it difficult for them to climb, and they will usually prefer areas where they can find hollow trees or rocky crevices to make a den. In other cases they will also look for dark and warm areas, and are known to occupy burrows that have been dug by other animals, or to use outhouses and attic spaces within domestic homes as dens. Raccoons will generally avoid open areas where they have no cover or trees to climb, as they will usually look to escape any threat by climbing the nearest tree or building to safety.
The Mating Habits Of The Raccoon
Depending on their location and the weather conditions of their habitat, most raccoons will mate
between the end of January and mid March, with the mating season in the south of the United States usually much later than in the colder northern states. The males will usually roam their home ranges during this period looking for female partners, and will court their potential partners over several nights. The copulation will usually take place for up to an hour, and it is common for the males to return to mate with the same partner over several nights during the mating season.
Once impregnated, the gestation period is usually between 63 and 65 days, and the female will then give birth to a litter of between two and five kits. Areas where there is a naturally high mortality rate will usually see larger litters, while areas with fewer threats will have smaller litters of kits. When they are born the kits are around four inches long and weigh around two ounces, and are deaf and blind. They are suckled by their mother for around six weeks, and will gradually begin consuming solid food, before being completely weaned at around 16 weeks old. The mother and her kits will usually stay together for the first few months, before the males of the litter move away to find their own home range in the fall.