They’ve been recorded sneaking food from the backyard, teasing household pets through the patio door and ransacking campsites. Their fluffy, cuddly appearance, combined with a curious and endearing behavior has drawn interest for centuries. Christopher Columbus called them perros, the Spanish word for dog. Raccoon was one of the first words recorded by Jamestown colonists: the Powhatan word means “animal that scratches with its hands.” These days you might know them affectionately as night bandits, trash pandas or forbidden cats.
Mischievous and opportunistic, raccoons are not looked upon favorably by some. Maybe you can learn something new about these commonly misunderstood creatures, which were recently highlighted in the April issue of The Woodlands Community Magazine.
Here are some facts about our highly adaptable and intelligent neighbors to get you started:
- Raccoons weigh up to 30 pounds, are 30 to 40 inches long, and are covered in grayish brown fur that has a dense underfur to insulate against the cold. They are notably adorned with a black mask, and ringed tail.
- Opportunistic omnivores, raccoons enjoy fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs and crayfish, but won’t pass up the chance to sift through your garbage.
- They do have a few predators: coyotes, bobcats, cougars and larger species of owls. Disease and cars are their biggest cause of death, though.
- They play an important role in a healthy woodlands ecosystem by helping control the pest population. Raccoons help control snake, insect and pest populations and reduce the spread of disease by eating carrion.
Raccoons are pretty great neighbors, until they’re not. Raccoons can lose their natural fear of humans as they find more food and shelter opportunities, especially if those are in your backyard! If you are seeing a lot of raccoon activity around your home, you may find yourself facing one of these scenarios.
Once a raccoon has found a source for a tasty treat, they will continue to return, night after night. If your garden, trash can or pet food is being raided, it’s time to remove the source. Adding protective fencing around your garden and using bungee cords to secure your trash lid are a good starting place. But keep in mind that those little dexterous hands can undo many simple latches, so if possible, store your garbage cans inside a shed or garage. There are many ways to scare away a raccoon for a night or two. Loud noises or a barking dog may do the trick a few times, but if the food source is still there, the raccoon will return, and your neighbors might not appreciate the noise. Bright lights, or motion sensor lights will also have a similar, short-term effect. It’s best to remove the source of food and let the raccoon move on to another nightly buffet.
Raccoons prefer brushy or wooded areas near streams, lakes or swamps but have adapted to live near developed areas, as long as food, water and shelter can be found. Warning: If a raccoon has taken up residence in your attic or shed, it is difficult to remove without professional help. If you are certain that the raccoon has left the space and there are no babies around, you may be able to board up the area before it returns. If you are unable to safely address the issue yourself, check with the Montgomery or Harris County offices for local wildlife removal companies and other resources. Just be sure to restrict access so another raccoon doesn’t take its place!
Found an abandoned or hurt raccoon
As with any wild animals, be cautious when approaching. Even babies can bite and mom is likely nearby. If you have found baby raccoons, also called kits or cubs, and are certain that mom is not returning, and not just out getting some food, there are some local wildlife rehabilitation resources that can help. For residents of Montgomery County, Friends of Texas Wildlife is a great resource. If you are in Harris County, reach out to Wildlife Center of Texas for assistance. Caring for baby raccoons until you can reach a rehabilitator has its challenges. Review these simple steps for doing your best to ensure your safety and their survival. Both organizations can field questions regarding a raccoon that has been injured as well.
Raccoons are wild animals. They are not meant to be rescued and turned into a household pet. Wild animals can be dangerously aggressive and many, including raccoons, are known to carry disease. According to the CDC, raccoons were responsible for 28.6% of all reported cases of rabies in the U.S. in 2017. In addition to rabies, raccoons may also carry ticks, fleas, lice, roundworm, leptospirosis bacteria, and salmonella. If you, or a pet, encounters a raccoon, please be cautious and follow up with medical professionals if you receive a bite or scratch.
Whether you think they are the epitome of cuteness, the best cleanup crew and pest control, or are just one of nature’s nocturnal neighbors, there’s no denying that raccoons are a part of our community. Next time you see one scampering across the road at night, you might wonder, did I put the trash can away?