SciSun: Bumps in the Night   Leave a comment

Sooner or later, you know they’d pop in out of nowhere – posts about Raccoons! (Pryus lactor); or as we like to call it:  ‘Behind the Mask’.  While the species does have its fans, among most people the Raccoon really doesn’t invite much of a positive reputation. They are targeted for damaging houses and fences; believed to spread many diseases; blamed for knocking over garbage cans, stealing and eating eggs from farms and pet food from porches; and in many areas generally considered a pest. Some people don’t like them just because their fur patterns form a ‘mask’ around their eyes, which is totally profiling as the raccoon can’t help what it looks like (and could develop deep-seated psychological issues from this type of discrimination). No one points to the beloved Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), who has similar dark fur on his face, as exhibiting non-societal behavior.

While scorned by some but beloved by others, the truth about this animal is somewhere in the middle – as it is for virtually all species who are neither hero or villain, but simply living their lives and earning their living in the best way possible. And, just as every species is complex with always more to discover, there’s a lot more to raccoons than just a mask, a pair of fast hands, and the fight to bring law and order to the West. No, that last part was the Lone Ranger, not raccoons. But in keeping with the Halloween theme, let’s discuss the legend of raccoons-as-late-night-bandits and midnight-mischief-makers. Because there’s really been too much made of the whole masked-bandit thing. For both the Lone Ranger, and the raccoon.

Raccoons are nocturnal – that means they are more active at night than any other time. This isn’t unusual as coyotes, skunks, owls, bats (there’s that Halloween connection again!), and many other animals also prefer the darkness. Humans are largely diurnal, active during the day. That is, without artificial light and television and shopping malls and other things provided by electricity. Raccoons, also, can live in our midst without humans even noticing. Over 10 million years of evolution, often in harsh, dangerous environments, has equipped the raccoon with the intelligence, skills, and ability to literally hide in plain sight; that has allowed the species to survive and thrive where other animals have perished. In a prehistoric world of the powerful Short-faced bear (Arctodus spp.); Sabre-tooth cat (Smilodon spp.); and Dire Wolf (Canis dirus), look who’s still here – the Raccoon!

“Yes, this dumped garbage is definitely a public hazard. I'll dispose of it properly....IN MY TUMMY!”

“Yes, this dumped garbage is definitely a public hazard. I’ll dispose of it properly….IN MY TUMMY!”

And in today’s world of the human, all the Raccoons’ skill and intelligence is put to good use – for the raccoon, not so much for the people who see the animals as pests. Because the raccoon is an opportunistic omnivore – and as some people at a buffet, a raccoon will eat just about anything it can find. Of course they do have foods they prefer (chocolate fountain?); but when on their nightly rounds, most anything that can be eaten, from insects to vegetables to fish to garbage – is fair play. Humans, who work hard to buy food only to waste or throw away about 40% of it, are unwittingly enabling the raccoon to thrive among all the dumpsters and garbage cans and left-outside bowls of pet food. Which creates an unhealthy environment for the animals (should a raccoon really be eating what remains of that re-heated frozen burrito?); encourages other creatures far more problematic than raccoons such as rats, cockroaches and feral cats; and leads to those un-identifiable nightime noises that probably aren’t anything; but around Halloween, could be anything.

We aren’t implying raccoons wouldn’t still be investigating our backyards and strip mall alleyways if there was nothing left out for them to eat (humans always have a lot of cool stuff laying around). But, the animals wouldn’t get into garbage if there was no garbage to get into. They are just seizing what opportunity presents and checking out what humans don’t want. Of course such behavior leads to dependance upon human left-overs (literally), which eventually turns out badly for the animals as they are seen as pests, dangers, and general un-wanteds.

If the Raccoon has evolved to make its way in a world that humans have designed, it’s not a comment on the behavior of the animal; but more on the lifestyle of humanity. Any late-night noises are less likely Zombies or Monsters or the Un-Dead, but probably your next door neighbor dumping his trash. Because on Halloween, it’s better strange sounds coming from outside be raccoons, than other things that could go bump in the night.

Michonne Says: Raccoons are always scampering around looking for trouble. As long as they don’t eat flowers it doesn’t bother me. Everybody should know better than to eat things humans leave behind. I’ve smelled some of those things and it wasn’t nice, I don’t know how the humans can eat it.


Posted October 25, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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