Masked and adorned with a ringed tail, raccoons are often characterized as mischievous based on their appearance. These common mammals are found in vastly different habitats, from hollowed-out trees in the tropics to attics in cities. Their rising population and ability to adapt is partly due to the raccoon’s ingenuity and flexible diet.

Creatures of the Night

Raccoons are nocturnal animals, and they spend their nights disguised by dark coats and masked faces while hunting for food. Their omnivorous diet consists of fruits, nuts, vegetables and meat. But raccoons are truly opportunistic beings — they’ll scavenge and eat whatever they can find. Their dexterous front paws and slender fingers make them especially adept at gathering and snatching food. Because they’ll eat nearly anything, many raccoons continue to survive and thrive by living near humans in suburbs and urban areas.

Pet or Pest?

Raccoons are so prevalent in human-populated areas that many consider them a nuisance. The nocturnal mammals tend to make a buffet out of vegetable gardens, garbage cans and bird feeders. However, the Humane Society offers multiple solutions to keep raccoons safe and to mitigate undesirable interactions with the animal.

While some people are annoyed by raccoons, others welcome the company of the feisty animals and even attempt to domesticate them. When content, raccoons make a range of noises, around 200 different sounds, that can sound like a trill, a squeal or even a whistle. Listen to this gathering of raccoons make some delighted squeaks over a midday snack.

Raccoon Family Life and Habitat

A female raccoon gives birth to a litter of raccoons around April or May after 60 to 65 days of gestation. The size of the litter ranges from one to six baby raccoons, called kits. Female raccoons, or sows, protectively raise their kits in a den for a year. Since raccoons aren’t animals that pair with a mate long-term, male raccoons don’t contribute to raising the kits.

Due to an expansive diet and an ability to adapt almost anywhere, raccoon habitats vary from the mountain wilderness to cities. The animal was traditionally found in North and South America, but it recently has spread to Europe and Japan. The expanding raccoon population in densely human-populated regions has resulted in some problems. Raccoons are responsible for 50% of reported animal rabies cases in the United States.

Raccoon Behaviors

One of the raccoon’s quirkiest traits is the animal’s obsessive washing of food and their hands. If raccoons are anywhere near a water source, they’ll scurry over, dunk and wash their food. If there isn’t any water around, they’ll still give the snack a good rubbing with their finger-like paws. Because of this behavior, many languages call the raccoon a term that translates to wash bear in English.

Famous Raccoons

Keeping with the clever and sneaky raccoon stereotype, the video game series Sly Cooper stars a raccoon thief as its main character. The bandit-masked protagonist must use his stealth to successfully pull off his team’s heists. Recently, a scoundrel raccoon made an appearance in Hollywood. Rocket, the raccoon member of Guardians of the Galaxy, transforms from a small-time space thief to an invaluable and cunning weapons technician in the Marvel movie franchise.

The wily raccoon uses its nimble hands and undiscriminating appetite to survive in almost any condition. While the species is not endangered and is even spreading to new continents, animal rights groups worry that urban raccoons are being treated inhumanely. These organizations encourage homeowners to practice safe removal of the opportunistic animals so humans and raccoons can live in harmony.