Discover Nature: The "Curious Nighttime Prowler"
Discover Nature this week with Missouri racoons.
Your car’s headlights reflect bright red eyes from a hunchbacked form ambling across the road. The black mask and ringed tail identify it as a raccoon, the “curious nighttime prowler.”
During the night, raccoons search out a variety of food, from fruit and near-ripe sweet corn to wriggling crayfish, worms, frogs, fish, dead animals and even garbage. Although it’s a popular belief, it’s not true that raccoons always wash their food. Raccoons often catch prey in water, but they’ll eat food wherever they find it without dousing it with water.
Raccoons prefer timbered habitat near water; they also may be found in urban and suburban areas. Their dens are usually made in hollow trees, in caves, rocky crevices, and abandoned woodchuck burrows. They eat insects and mice and only rarely cause extensive damage to corn, gardens or chickens.
Most breeding occurs in February, and most litters are born in April or early May, though some litters are born as late as August. The young are usually weaned by August but stay with their mothers until the next spring.
Raccoons are intelligent and curious. They can remove lids from garbage cans and figure out how to open tricky latches on storage containers. Once a raccoon learns how to pick locks, it will remember how to open them the next time. Young raccoons may then learn these techniques by mimicking other raccoons. As campers and picnickers learn, it’s sometimes impossible to outsmart them.
The state’s raccoon population reached a low point in the 1940s and has been rebounding ever since, in part due to regulated hunting and trapping combined with an increase in suitable habitat.
More information about racoons in Missouri can be found online at missouriconservation.org