Raccoon math and biology

A recent discovery is about to turn the science of genetics on its head.  I’m pretty sure raccoons have started to multiply by binary fission.  Now I know many of you are saying, “That is only possible for single-celled organisms.”  And the rest of you, certain that I have finally lost what little bit of my mind that had remained intact, have turned the page to read Captain Ralph Allen’s latest tale of terror.  His recent article about the fishing spider has caused me to lose countless nights of sleep.  I thought as a card-carrying arachnophobe, I had envisioned every place a spider might sneak up on me to attack.  Thanks to Capt. Ralph, I now have another location that must be avoided at all costs.  But I digress.  Where was I before Capt. Ralph derailed my train of thought?

Peace River Wildlife Center is still seeing a steady influx of baby raccoons.  Our most reliable homecare volunteer has been raising these mischievous youngsters for us for many years and is long overdue for a break.  Since raccoons are a rabies-vector species, we can only allow vaccinated people to handle them.  While the risk of the infants we take in having been exposed to rabies is minimal, we must err on the side of caution.  And if you think having your dog vaccinated for rabies is an expensive proposition, it costs close to $1,000 for the three-injection series for a human to be properly inoculated against rabies.

In the dearth of other suitable candidates, I have been doing homecare for the baby raccoons.  It has been years since I have had to work so closely with this species.  I do enjoy it, but there are some drawbacks.  The worst thing for the neonate raccoon is for it to be raised by itself.  With only the person feeding him to relate to, he gets habituated to people and loses his ability to interact appropriately with his own species once released.  The worst thing for me is to have more than two raccoons to feed and clean up after.

I was thrilled when a second racoon came in that was approximately the same age as one that I had been fostering.  But when the two of them turned into four, I began to get worried.  If I find eight raccoons in the cage the next time I go to feed them, I’m out.

They are adorable at this stage.  Like human babies, all they do is eat and sleep.  And, of course, poop.  A lot of poop.  And when they get a little older, they start to rough and tumble around the cage and the poop becomes a work of art.  I do not purport to be an art critic, but I know what I like—and I do not like raccoon poop smeared all over the sides and floor of their cage.

Apart from their artistic inclinations, raccoons are incredibly intelligent creatures.  Once old enough, they will use a latrine to keep their habitat clean.  They are very inquisitive and can readily learn how to open containers and get into small spaces.  Being highly food-motivated, raccoons often find themselves in trouble when hunger meets smarts.  We have had raccoons present as patients with their heads stuck in jars and feet stuck in cans.  This is a good example of why people should always rinse their trash and recyclables before tossing them.

It is also important for people to properly secure their trash receptacles.  Many Charlotte County residents now have the large wheeled carts.  Those appear to be fairly raccoon-proof (so far, at least!)  If you still use a regular trash can or recycle bin, be sure to wait until the morning of the pick-up to place it curbside.  And secure the lid, especially if the can is stored outside where raccoons (and potentially bears) can get access to it.

If you must feed pets outside, take in the food overnight.  Cat food left on your porch is actually raccoon food once the sun goes down.  A food source close to your home causes raccoons to lose their necessary fear of humans, plus they do not get the well-balanced diet they would by foraging naturally and it attracts other raccoons as well as rodents.  If your pets are not properly vaccinated, they risk exposure to contagious diseases, or could even be the source of a devastating infection to a wide range of wildlife.

Although they are naturally nocturnal, raccoons seen during the day are not necessarily sick.  While they are generally more active at night; a normal, healthy raccoon can spend daylight hours searching for food or water, or simply exploring his neighborhood.

Raccoons are beneficial and help control populations of rodents and insects.  They are fascinating creatures and when we respect them, they respect and avoid us.  As a native species, raccoons are well-adapted to this area.  They are clever creatures and we should take care to avoid unnecessary confrontation with them.  Especially since it looks like they may be the ones rewriting our biology books soon.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

A juvenile raccoon with his head stuck in a glass jar
A juvenile raccoon with his head stuck in a glass jar