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The common raccoon (Procyon lotor), also known as the northern raccoon or just raccoon, is a mammal native to the Americas. Its name derives from the Algonquian word aroughcoune, "he who scratches with his hands". Raccoons are intelligent omnivores with a reputation for slyness and mischief.
Procyon lotor is the most common type of raccoon in North America. Adult weights vary with habitat but an average is 12 to 21 pounds (about 5.5 to 9.5 kg), the largest recorded being over 28 kg . They have black facial colorings around the eyes, and have a bushy tail with light and dark alternating rings. The coat is a mixture of gray, brown, and black fur. On rare occasions, raccoons may be albino. The characteristic eye colorings make the animal look like it is wearing a "bandit's mask".
Raccoons are nocturnal and eat a large variety of things, including berries, insects, eggs and other small animals. Raccoons are known to "wash" their food before eating it (the term for the animal in French is raton laveur, or "washing rat"; the German word is Waschbär, or "washing bear"). It is not certain that the act of washing is performed to actually clean food; some studies find that raccoons engage in it when water is not available.
Mating usually occurs in January or February and a litter of 4–5 young are born in April or May (varies by climate). Raccoons usually live in hollow trees, ground burrows, or caves. Males have no part in raising the young. By late summer the litter will be weaned and begin to fend for themselves. In severe winter climates, raccoons may become dormant but do not hibernate.
Raccoons have been known live up to 12 years in the wild, but most live for only a few years.
At one time, raccoons were aggressively trapped for their fur. People such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett are well known for wearing coonskin hats. Populations suffered greatly but have recovered. Raccoons are one of the largest animals to have adapted well to human development.
Raccoons as pets
Raccoons can be kept legally as pets in some states of the United States. Raccoons bred by breeders or orphan raccoons raised by humans may make suitable pets; however, there are no domesticated raccoons. Training a raccoon is an intensive and ongoing process, and the raccoon may still have behavorial problems like biting and destructive and messy play. Raccoons are nocturnal but most adapt to sleeping during the night and being awake in the day with training.
Raccoons may carry rabies and Baylisascaris roundworm. Captive raccoons may develop obesity and other disorders because of unnatural diet and lack of exercise; furthermore, many veterinarians will not treat raccoons. Raccoons raised in captivity and released often do not adapt to life outside.
Range of the raccoon
Raccoons are common in eastern North America as far north as Québec province and as far south as the state of Florida. They became an invasive species in western Europe after several escaped from a nature preserve in Germany in the 1950s. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported in 2002 that the raccoon had established itself in a small area of north-central France and in a considerable area of central Germany, where it had become a neighborhood pest to some and a beloved pet to others.
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