October 1, 2011 - Raccoon Appreciation Day

and International Music Day

Today's a great day to play music for your favorite raccoon.

Okay, not really. Raccoons are wild animals, and it's best to leave them alone—and to hope that they leave you alone, as well!

This North American mammal is very smart, and it sometimes intrudes on people because it has figured out that people are a great source of food. Raccoons sometimes come into people's homes, even—I heard of one recently coming through a doggie door, and a couple of raccoons once boldly walked through a friend's open door!—so if you live in an area where raccoons are common, take precautions so that these critters don't plunder your pantry!

Raccoons are known for their masked faces and for their dexterous front paws. (Dextrous means skillful in handling things and doing things with one's hands or, in the case of raccoons, paws.)

Do raccoons wash their food?

Raccoons often douse their food in water—holding the food underwater and using their paws to examine it. Scientists speculate that this behavior may be to spot and remove unwanted parts—and that they do this in the water because that increases the sensitivity of their paws by softening the horny layer on them. However, there isn't much credible evidence that raccoons douse their food in the wild! Hmmm...

Observations of captive raccoons show that they do not douse “dirty” food more or longer than food that doesn't have soil or dust on it—so dousing is not washing, and raccoons do not wash their food. Also, raccoons are much more likely to douse food if they have access to a very nearby source of water that is or resembles a stream. They don't carry their food a long ways in order to “wash” it, nor do they often douse their food in, say, a bucket of water. Because of this, scientists have a provisional theory that dousing is what is known as a “vacuum activity,” a behavior that evolved for a certain reason but that now occurs even when that reason doesn't apply. The behavior could have arisen as raccoons first evolved to forage at lake and stream shores.

(A provisional theory means that scientists do not feel there is enough evidence to be very sure of the theory. Of course, all theories are provisional, in the sense that we can never be 100% sure of anything and science is always open to additional evidence. But many theories, such as the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun and the theory that living things evolved from earlier organisms, are on much more sure footing (the 99.99% kind), and the theory that raccoons douse their food as a vacuum activity is much, much less certain. Further observation and perhaps experimentation is needed.)

What do raccoons eat?


They eat a lot of insects, worms, and other invertebrates (animals without backbones). They eat bird eggs, baby birds, fish, and amphibians such as salamanders and frogs. In the summer and autumn, when nuts and fruits are available, they eat a lot of these calorie-rich foods, especially walnuts and acorns. Once in a while, when they can catch them, raccoons eat small mammals.

So a raccoon's diet tends to be:

  • about 40% invertebrates (worms, insects, etc.)
  • about 33% plant materials (nuts, acorns, and fruits)
  • about 27% vertebrates (eggs, birds, amphibians, fish, and mammals)

Here's an idea: put these figures into a circle graph...

Find out more about raccoons here, here, and here.

Also, celebrate International Music Day!

Enjoy music of all kinds, from all places!
Check out Putumayo Kids

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