Raccoons

Raccoons in a tree.
The most common complaints include the following:

  • Raccoons living in the attic
  • Raccoons living in the chimney
  • Tipping over garbage cans
  • Stealing pet food or bird seed
  • Sick, potentially rabid raccoon
  • Presence is alarming dogs/pets

For these reasons, many people wish to have this nuisance animal trapped and removed.

NUISANCE CONCERNS: Raccoons are one of the most commonly dealt with nuisance animals. They have adapted to living with humans. They have learned that garbage cans and dumpsters are excellent sources of food, and that houses are excellent habitat. A mother raccoon will often tear a hole in a roof to access an attic, where they will make quite a mess and a lot of noise. If you have a raccoon in the attic, it’s going to make a big mess and leave a lot of droppings. They are strong animals, and once inside an attic, they often tear off insulation paper, rip open ducts, tear insulation off pipes, etc.  They will search hard for food, and are fond of tipping over trash cans, raiding dumpsters, and stealing pet food. They will often break into a screened-in porch to get pet food.  They carry a number of parasites and diseases that can affect people or pets.
RACCOON BIOLOGY: (Procyon lotor) Raccoons are easy to recognize with their distinctive black mask and ringed tail. Adults range from 10 lbs on up, with some reaching over 40lbs. They can live up to 12 years in the wild, though average life spans average closer to 5-6 years. Raccoons mate in the winter, around December, and the females give birth to an average of 3-5 young. A mother raccoon is very protective of its litter of 3-5 young, usually born in the spring time. Like many mammals, they are primarily nocturnal, though some people spot them during the day, often when in search of food. They are omnivores, and will eat almost anything they can get those crafty hands on.

RACCOON BEHAVIOR: They are very common animals, particularly in urban areas. They are well adapted for survival in cities. They are excellent climbers, and they have very nimble hands. They are also strong, and they often explore, tearing new areas open in search of food and shelter. They like to den in trees, but they love to den in attics.

HOW DO I GET RID OF RACCOONS? The only real means of getting rid of raccoons is through trapping and removal of the animals. If you’ve got raccoons in your attic, it’s important that the wildlife operator search for a litter of baby raccoons, and remove them by hand before trapping and removing the female raccoon. If it’s just raccoons outside causing trouble, they can be trapped and removed, but beware, they’ll often dig and grab anything within a few inches of the cage trap.

Diet

Though usually nocturnal, the raccoon is sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources.  Its diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material and 27% vertebrates.   Since its diet consists of such a variety of different foods,  While its diet in spring and early summer consists mostly of insects, worms, and other animals already available early in the year, it prefers fruits and nuts, such as acorns and walnuts, which emerge in late summer and autumn, and represent a rich calorie source for building up fat needed for winter.  They eat active or large prey, such as birds and mammals, only occasionally, since they prefer prey that is easier to catch, specifically fish and amphibians.  Bird nests (eggs and after hatchlings) are frequently preyed on, and small birds are often helpless to prevent the attacking raccoon.  When food is plentiful, raccoons can develop strong individual preferences for specific foods.  In the northern parts of their range, raccoons go into a winter rest, reducing their activity drastically as long as a permanent snow cover makes searching for food impossible.

Dousing

Raccoons often douse their food before eating.

Raccoons sample food and other objects with their front paws to examine them and to remove unwanted parts. The tactile sensitivity of their paws is increased if this action is performed underwater, since the water softens the horny layer covering the paws.   However, the behavior observed in captive raccoons in which they carry their food to a watering hole to “wash” or douse it before eating has not been observed in the wild. Raccoons douse their food more frequently when a watering hole with a layout similar to a stream is not farther away than 3 m (10 ft).   The widely accepted theory is that dousing is a vacuum activity imitating foraging at shores for aquatic foods.   This is supported by the observation that such foods are doused more frequently. Cleaning dirty food does not seem to be a reason for “washing”. Experts have cast doubt on the veracity of observations of wild raccoons dousing food.

Reproduction

Raccoons usually mate in a period triggered by increasing daylight between late January and extends until June.   During the mating season, males roam their home ranges in search of females in an attempt to court them during the three to four day period when conception is possible. These encounters will often occur at central meeting places.   Copulation, including foreplay, can last over an hour and is repeated over several nights.  The weaker members of a male social group also are assumed to get the opportunity to mate, since the stronger ones cannot mate with all available females.  In a study in southern Texas during the mating seasons from 1990 to 1992, about one third of all females mated with more than one male.   If a female does not become pregnant or if she loses her kits early, she will sometimes become fertile again 80 to 140 days later.

After usually 63 to 65 days of gestation (although anywhere from 54 to 70 days is possible), a litter of typically two to five young is born.  The average litter size varies widely with habitat, ranging from 2.5 in Alabama to 4.8 in North Dakota.   Larger litters are more common in areas with a high mortality rate, due, for example, to hunting or severe winters. While male yearlings usually reach their sexual maturity only after the main mating season, female yearlings can compensate for high mortality rates and may be responsible for about 50% of all young born in a year.  Males have no part in raising young.  The kits (also called “cubs”) are blind and deaf at birth, but their mask is already visible against their light fur.  The birth weight of the about 10 cm (4 in)-long kits is between 60 and 75 g (2.1 and 2.6 oz).  Their ear canals open after around 18 to 23 days, a few days before their eyes open for the first time.   Once the kits weigh about 1 kg (2 lb), they begin to explore outside the den, consuming solid food for the first time after six to nine weeks.   After this point, their mother suckles them with decreasing frequency; they are usually weaned by 16 weeks.   In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many females will stay close to the home range of their mother, males can sometimes move more than 20 km (12 mi) away.  This is considered an instinctive behavior, preventing inbreeding.   However, mother and offspring may share a den during the first winter in cold areas.

The most important natural predators of the raccoon are  coyotes, and owls, the latter mainly preying on young raccoons.

Although they have thrived in sparsely wooded areas in the last decades, raccoons depend on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. Therefore, they avoid open terrain and areas with high concentrations of beech trees, as beech bark is too smooth to climb.Tree hollows in old oaks or other trees and rock crevices are preferred by raccoons as sleeping, winter and litter dens. If such dens are unavailable or accessing them is inconvenient, raccoons use burrows dug by other mammals, dense undergrowth, roadside culverts in urban areas, or tree crotches.

Raccoons are common throughout Georgia

racoon

Racoon in the middle of the night looking for food.

Raccoons can carry rabies, a lethal disease caused by the neurotropic rabies virus carried in the saliva and transmitted by bites. Its spread began in Florida and Georgia in the 1950s and was facilitated by the introduction of infected individuals to Virginia and North Dakota in the late 1970s. Of the 6,940 documented rabies cases reported in the United States in 2006, 2,615 (37.7%) were in raccoons.The U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as local authorities in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces, has developed oral vaccination programs to fight the spread of the disease in endangered populations. Only one human fatality has been reported after transmission of the rabies virus from a raccoon.Among the main symptoms for rabies in raccoons are a generally sickly appearance, impaired mobility, abnormal vocalization, and aggressiveness.There may be no visible signs at all, however, and most individuals do not show the aggressive behavior seen in infected canids; rabid raccoons will often retire to their dens instead. Organizations like the U.S. Forest Service encourage people to stay away from animals with unusual behavior or appearance, and to notify the proper authorities, such as an animal control officer from the local health department. Since healthy animals, especially nursing mothers, will occasionally forage during the day, daylight activity is not a reliable indicator of illness in raccoons.

Unlike rabies and at least a dozen other pathogens carried by raccoons, distemper, an epizootic virus, does not affect humans. This disease is the most frequent natural cause of death in the North American raccoon population and affects individuals of all age groups.For example, 94 of 145 raccoons died during an outbreak in Clifton, Ohio, in 1968. It may occur along with a following inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), causing the animal to display rabies-like symptoms. In Germany, the first eight cases of distemper were reported in 2007.

Some of the most important bacterial diseases which affect raccoons are leptospirosis, listeriosis, tetanus, and tularemia. Although internal parasites weaken their immune systems, well-fed individuals can carry a great many roundworms in their digestive tracts without showing symptoms. The larvae of the Baylisascaris procyonis roundworm, which can be contained in the feces and seldom causes a severe illness in humans, can be ingested when cleaning raccoon latrines without wearing breathing protection.

The increasing number of raccoons in urban areas has resulted in diverse reactions in humans, ranging from outrage at their presence to deliberate feeding.Wildlife experts and most public authorities caution against feeding wild animals because they might become increasingly obtrusive and dependent on humans as a food source.Raccoons without a fear of humans are a concern to those who attribute this trait to rabies, but scientists point out this behavior is much more likely to be a behavioral adjustment to living in habitats with regular contact to humans for many generations.Serious attacks on humans by groups of non-rabid raccoons are extremely rare and are almost always the result of the raccoon feeling threatened; at least one such attack has been documented. Raccoons usually do not prey on domestic cats and dogs, but individual cases of killings have been reported.

While overturned waste containers and raided fruit trees are just a nuisance to homeowners, it can cost several thousand dollars to repair damage caused by the use of attic space as dens. Relocating or killing raccoons without a permit is forbidden in many urban areas on grounds of animal welfare. These methods usually only solve problems with particularly wild or aggressive individuals, since adequate dens are either known to several raccoons or will quickly be rediscovered. Loud noises, flashing lights and unpleasant odors have proven particularly effective in driving away a mother and her kits before they would normally leave the nesting place (when the kits are about eight weeks old). Typically, though, only precautionary measures to restrict access to food waste and denning sites are effective in the long term.

Among all fruits and crops cultivated in agricultural areas, sweet corn in its milk stage is particularly popular among raccoons. In a two-year study by Purdue University researchers, published in 2004, raccoons were responsible for 87% of the damage to corn plants.Like other predators, raccoons searching for food can break into poultry houses to feed on chickens, ducks, their eggs, or feed.

Since raccoons are able to increase their rate of reproduction up to a certain limit, extensive hunting often does not solve problems with raccoon populations. Older males also claim larger home ranges than younger ones, resulting in a lower population density. The costs of large-scale measures to eradicate raccoons from a given area for a certain time are usually many times higher than the costs of the damage done by the raccoons.

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