Raccoons are most active at night. Their travels depend on where food is available and the prevailing weather conditions. The home range of the adult male is about one mile in diameter, although it expands during breeding season. Adult females and their young inhabit smaller areas. One male’s home range often overlaps with the ranges of several females.
Raccoons do not construct their own den sites but rely on natural processes or the work of other animals. Traditionally, it was thought that raccoons primarily used hollow trees for winter den and spring birthing sites. Trees are important but studies show that raccoons will den in abandoned buildings, old bever lodges or bank dens, car bodies, wood piles, abandoned coyote dens, chimneys and haystacks. They have even been known to den in dense stands of cattails.
Raccoons do not hibernate but can remain inactive for extended periods during severe winter weather. On summer days, they spend much of their time on the ground or sprawled on the large tree limbs.
Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal foods. Plant foods include all typers of fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrat, eggs and the young of ground nesting birds. Depending on seasonal needs, most foraging is done near water or around the edges of crop fields. Their diet is dectated by seasonal protein and energy needs and food availability.
Raccoons produce only one litter of young per ye ar with an average size of 3-5 young. The young open their eyes at about 3 weeks of age. Young raccoons are weaned between 2 and 4 months of age.
Raccoons may cause damage or nuisance problems in a variety of ways. They occasionally kill poultry and leave distinctive signs like raccoon latrines. Consult your local DNR office if you feel that you have raccoon predation issues.
The major causes of raccoon mortality in the Midwest are fur harvest, collisions with motor vehicles and disease. Starvation is seldom an important population regulator in this area. The most important disease in raccoons is canine distemper which can cause sever reduction in raccoon numbers. Most sick raccoons reported are diagnosed with distemper. Although symptoms or distemper are similar to those of rabies, raccoons seldom are diagnosed with the latter. Symptoms include nasal discharge, disorientation, trembling, and limping.
Exclusion, if feasible, is the best method of preveting raccoon damage. Tightly covered doors and windows on buildings or mesh wire fences with overhangs can prevent damage in poultry yards. A “hot wire” on top of a fence will greatly increase the effectiveness of a fence. Prevent raccoon access to chimneys by securely fastening a commercial cap of sheet metal and heavy screen over the top of the chimney. Before installing the cap, make sure raccoons and their young are not in the chimney. The best caps are made of stainless steel. They re slightly more expensive but will last very long. Screens are aslo available for mushoom vents. Be sure that combustion products and vented air are not trapped in chimneys and vents because of poorly designed and constructed caps.
Do Not leave pet food or water outside for animals like the raccoon to find. Cover compost piles if food waste is composted.
Several short term techniques have been used to frighten away raccoons. Their success rate is variable to zero because raccoons quickly habituate. These techniques (scare tactics) include the use of lights, radios, dogs, scarecrows, aluminum pie pans, tin can lids and plastic windmills.
A variety of traps (including cage traps) have been extremely successful in controlling raccoon populations. Relocation of trapped raccoons is problematical. Relocated raccoons do not compete well with established residents and have poor survival rates. They also travel up to 25 miles, so you have to move them very far.
Raccoons establish “latrines” where every member of the community defecates. New droppings are deposited on top of the old droppings. New feces are usually dark, but the old feces underneath may resemble dried leaves or other debris. Raccoons prefer flat raised sides for their latrines, including roofs, decks, unsealed attics, haylofts, tops of fences, wood piles, fallen logs or large rocks. Raccoon latrines may harbor roundworm eggs, so estra precautions shuld be taken when cleaning them up. Any raccoon latrine found in a building requires professional assistance for clean up.
Baylisascaris procyonis is a common roundworm found in raccoons. These roundworms can also affect domestic animals and humans. Transfer of roundworm eggs from hand to mouth by children playing in an infected area is the most common way the parasite is transferred to humans. Once eggs are in the body, they develop into larvae that can migrate across teh eye and cause blindness or can migrate to the brain and cause serious neurologial disorders and, in some cases, death. Currently there is no treatment to kill migrating larvae in humans. It is best to practice ways to not get infected by spraying possibly infected areas wtih a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water. This will not kill the eggs but break down the protein sac that surrounds the egg. Burning is the only way to kill the eggs. Any potentially comtaminated material should be burned. Lastly, always wash hands thoroughly to reduce chances of infection after plaing in the yard and sandboxes, gardening and conducting other outdoor activities.