SciSun: A Clean dinner is a Happy dinner

Have you ever seen videos of a raccoon that’s looking for food at the edge of a pond of stream? She looks all around for anything edible -under rocks and fallen trees, inside piles of leaves, on branches and stones and in the water. (Some people say I do the same thing when I’m hungry.  But there are no videos to prove it!). Finally the raccoon finds something promising, grabs it and immediately puts her hands into the water and rubs them back and forth. The raccoon is washing her hands getting ready for dinner!  Or is she…..

Actually, raccoons aren’t washing their hands. And they’re not washing their dinner, either (although some things raccoons eat might need washing. You never know where that worm has been). What the raccoons are doing is handling the food to make certain it’s something good to eat. Raccoons have extremely sensitive fingers, as much or maybe even more sensitive than people. But their eyesight for details is not so good. When they find a particularly delicious looking bug, or frog, or unusual-thing-that-lives-in-the-mud, they take it to some nearby water, dunk it under, and closely handle what they’ve found to be certain it’s what they thought it was. The water helps them feel more delicately, just like when you’re washing dishes and drop a spoon, you can’t just feel the spoon, but also the dried-up oatmeal still on it. Ugh.

But raccoons don’t HAVE to handle everything in the water before they eat it. Sometimes if they aren’t around water they will still handle the food in their hands for a few seconds before eating, but that just looks silly. If they decide something looks and smells good enough, then that’s….good enough for them and it goes from hand-to-mouth. Of course by then if something doesn’t taste as good as expected it’s too late, but raccoons aren’t exactly picky eaters. They’ve been known to eat dog and cat food, bugs, frogs, fish, left-over fast food, garbage, grease, candy, and just about anything they find. In the forest where raccoons usually live, eating what you find is usually OK. There’s not really anything there to eat that could hurt the raccoons, and what is dangerous they learn to avoid. But when raccoons are living around people, they have the opportunity to eat lots of things they shouldn’t. Things that we drop on the ground or leave outside or otherwise put where it shouldn’t be. So remember not to leave any of our food – or anything that smells like it could be food – around where raccoons, or other wildlife, can find it. It could be very dangerous for the animals, and that’s worse that just eating your dinner with dirty hands.

Wikimedia Procyon_lotor_(eating)

Looks like a rock. Feels like dinner.

There are lots of great places to learn more about Raccoons. Here are a few to get you started:

http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/critter/mammal/raccoon.htm

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Procyon_lotor.html

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/raccoon.html

And don’t forget your local library! (yes, there could be raccoons there, too. But the librarian is getting someone to look into that)

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