A plucky raccoon recently achieved internet fame by climbing a 25-story building in St. Paul. Michael Ellis takes a more pedestrian view of this common creature well-adapted to the human landscape.
I came home from two weeks away to a nasty smell under the house. I knew what it was. We had seen an old sick raccoon there a while ago. We tried to entice him out but to no avail. He had apparently crawled into a quiet place to die. Lucky me.
When our forefathers from Europe first landed in New England there were many plants and animals new to them. The local natives of course had named them in their own language - Algonquin. Skunk meant “the animal that urinates”. I'll say! Ug passim or possum was “white beast or white rat.” Chipmunk meant “one who descends trees head first.”
And then there is the raccoon – “he who scratches with the hands.” Well, that is certainly true. Raccoons have adapted and thrived as humans have altered the landscape of North America. They are mesopredators; that is, carnivores of intermediate size, both hunted and hunters. This would include opossums, skunks, and even gray foxes. All have increased in population because most top carnivores like mountain lions that would normally prey on them, no longer exist in suburbs and cities. And humans have graciously provided the ideal habitat -- good places to live under houses or in storm drains and plenty of easy food pickings like back porch cat food and garbage cans.
Several years ago, a UC student surveyed raccoon road kills throughout Berkeley. Combining it with mapping and field research he determined there were about 800 raccoons just in that city. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal and have about four babies a year. The females are good mothers and instruct their babies on survival. I once entered my country home to find a mother raccoon and her four kits had opened the refrigerator. They had removed the eggs and cheese and were making a huge mess on the floor. Raccoons can be very intimidating and hold their own against fierce guard dogs. I gave them plenty of room as they scooted out the door.