Raccoon

four raccoons perched in the hollow of a tree

Find a place in Oklahoma where there is food, water and suitable den sites and you’ve more than likely found a great location to spot a raccoon (Procyon lotor). Though found mostly in the crosstimbers region of the state, don’t give up seeing them in prairies, marshes, cultivated and abandoned agricultural field and even in your own backyard, as the raccoon is highly adaptable to a range of conditions.

Raccoon have dense fur that ranges in color from grayish to blackish on the back to dull brown tinted with yellowish gray on the stomach. Adults range from eight to 35 pounds and are 10-26 inches long. That includes the tail which can be up to a foot in length. Male raccoons tend to be larger than females.

Characterized by an opportunistic appetite, raccoons are known to eat hundreds of species of both plants and animals, though plants are considered the most important component of the raccoon’s diet in most habitats. In the spring, however, raccoons tend to feed more on animals than plants, including crayfish, insects and small rodents. Fruits top the menu in the fall and acorns in the winter months. The belief that raccoons wash their food before eating stems from a fixed patter of behavior used by wild raccoons in which they dip their paws in water when searching for aquatic prey. Captive raccoons “wash” their food as a substitute for this wild behavior.

Raccoons typically eat one-half to a full pound of food per day and up to five pounds as winter approaches and if they can find, Excess food turns to a thick insulating layer of fat.

Raccoons are nocturnal and normally solitary but males and females join during January, February, and March to breed. Males mate with multiple females and are known to travel four to five miles in search of receptive females.

Females give birth to up to seven blind and nearly hairless “cubs” in April or May, though litters can consist of as few as one cub. Three to four cubs in a litter is considered average.

Cubs open their eyes after two and a half weeks and nurse for eight weeks. After that period, they begin following their mother on trips in search of food. Raccoons leave their mother at about six months to establish new territory. Most will live no more than two years in the wild, though some live to be five to six years old.

Trapping and nighttime “coon hunting” is a deeply rooted tradition in Oklahoma and it’s always entertaining to view raccoons from a tree stand during deer season. They make for an interesting outdoor recreation or wildlife viewing opportunity and are just one unique and important part of Oklahoma’s diverse wildlife.