BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
Adult raccoons in Utah may weigh from 10 to 30 pounds, are 2 to 3 feet in length, and are about 16 inches tall at the shoulder. Adult males may occupy territories of 3 to 20 square miles, compared to 1 to 6 square miles for females.
Raccoons do not hibernate during the winter, but may sleep several days to a couple of weeks during extreme cold periods. They are nocturnal and solitary except when breeding or caring for their young.
Breeding usually occurs from January to March, with females mating only once a year. Usually less than half of yearling females will breed, while adult females normally breed every year.
After a gestation period of about 63 days, an average litter of 3 to 5 young are born usually in April or May. The young weigh about 2 ounces at birth, open their eyes at about 3 weeks, and are weaned from 2 to 4 months of age around late summer. Some young may disperse in late autumn, but all are driven away by the female before her next litter is born. A female with young may attack if cornered, so caution should be taken if a mother and young are encountered in an attic or other enclosed space.
Raccoons generally have a short life span. Fifty to seventy percent of all populations consist of raccoons under one year old. Raccoons rarely live to the age of 12 years in the wild.
Raccoons are omnivorous and will eat either plants or animals, depending on what is available. Plant foods may include fruit, vegetables (especially sweet corn) or nuts. Animal foods may include grubs, crickets, grasshoppers, large insects, crayfish, clams, frogs, worms, fish, turtles, bird eggs and nestlings, and small mammals such as squirrels, rats, or mice. In urban areas, raccoons may feed on dog or cat food, fruit on trees, garden vegetables, or trash can garbage.
Most towns and cities in Utah have raccoons living within city limits. Because raccoons are active by night (nocturnal), they are seldom seen. Of all the wild animals that have adapted to city life, raccoons are probably the most destructive.
Raccoons cause problems when they lose their fear of humans and move into urban areas to live. Problems include feeding in garbage cans, establishing dens in chimneys and plugging them with nest material, tearing off shingles or fascia boards to enter an attic or wall space, or causing damage to gardens and fruit trees. Raccoons also may carry fleas, ticks, lice, distemper, mange, rabies, and canine and feline parovirus. The results of recent blood tests conducted on raccoons in Utah indicated that over 80% of those tested had been exposed to rabies as indicated by the presence of a rabies titer.
Raccoon feces may also contain the roundworm egg (Baylisacaris procyonis). Humans, especially children, that come into contact with raccoon feces containing eggs of this roundworm can also become infected. Clinical symptoms depend on the number of roundworm larvae present in the body and their location. If the larvae migrate to the eyes or brain, blindness or death can be the end result.
Raccoons can also threaten the health of other mammals. They can carry Aleutians disease which is a virus that affects other fur-bearing animals. As such, it poses a major threat to Utah’s fur industry. In addition, raccoons entering the buildings where mink are raised may eat off the mink’s feet through the wire mesh in the bottom of their cages. The injured mink usually die soon after the injury. Raccoons also cause problems in rural areas by raiding chicken coops or poultry farms and killing many birds, only consuming a portion of the total number killed. Damage to agricultural grain crops and raccoon predation on bird nests are other common problems.