Raccoons, aka masked bandits, known for their mischievous nature and distinctive appearance, are omnivorous creatures that have adapted well to various environments. These intelligent mammals possess a versatile diet and display interesting feeding habits. In this article, we will explore what raccoons eat and delve into fascinating facts about their feeding habits.
Understanding the Diet of Raccoons
Raccoons as Omnivores
Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores, which means they consume both plant and animal matter. Their diet generally reflects their surrounding environment and can vary from region to region. This dietary flexibility allows them to survive in a wide range of habitats, including forests, urban areas, and wetlands. Their ability to adapt their diet to changing food availability is an essential survival trait.
Adaptability and Varied Diet
Raccoons have a highly varied diet, allowing them to exploit various food sources. Their natural food preferences are influenced by factors such as seasonal availability, habitat type, and geographic location. Raccoons exhibit a remarkable ability to forage and obtain sustenance from a large group of diverse food items.
Natural Food Sources for Raccoons
Fruits and Berries
Raccoons have a fondness for fruits and berries. They are particularly attracted to sweet and juicy fruits such as apples, grapes, and blackberries. Their dexterous front paws and nimble fingers enable them to pick and consume these fruits with ease. Raccoons wash their food prior to eating it. Food washing is generally not for cleaning purposes, but to intensify their sense of taste and touch.
Raccoons have been known to raid backyard vegetable gardens. Lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers, and peas are just some of the goodies these nocturnal animals love. Sweet corn is an especially favourite food item for a masked bandit.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds also form a significant part of a raccoon's diet. A raccoon consumes various seeds, including those from sunflowers and pumpkins. With nuts, they are skilled at manipulating their paws to extract edible parts, such as acorns and walnuts.
Insects and Invertebrates
As opportunistic feeders, raccoons actively seek out insects and invertebrates. They are proficient hunters of small creatures like crayfish, spiders, and snails. Raccoons will overturn rocks and logs in their search for these protein-rich food sources.
Small Mammals and Birds
Raccoons possess the agility and strength to catch and consume small mammals and birds. They are known to raid bird nests for eggs, and chicks or they will prey on small rodents like mice or rats. This behaviour allows them to supplement their diet with animal protein. They will also consume carrion (dead/decaying carcasses) whereas most other mammals would not search around for a meal like that.
Raccoons are excellent swimmers and are not averse to hunting for food in aquatic environments. Once they find a water source, they are skilled at catching fish, frogs, crabs, lobster, turtles, and aquatic invertebrates such as freshwater clams and mussels. Their ability to adapt to aquatic habitats contributes to their overall diet diversity.
Garbage and Human Food
One of the reasons raccoons have become synonymous with urban environments is their ability to scavenge from human food sources. Garbage bins and improperly secured trash cans provide a readily available food supply for these resourceful animals. Organic bins left outside have also been broken into by these masked bandit animals. People in urban areas have been known to leave pet food outside for their cats or dogs creating a buffet for these opportunistic eaters of the night. Many bird feeders and have been Human settlements have inadvertently influenced the feeding habits of raccoons.
Unique Feeding Habits of Raccoons
Raccoons are primarily nocturnal creatures, meaning these black mask bandits are most active during the night. They have developed excellent night vision, enabling them to locate and capture their prey in the dark. This behaviour also helps them avoid potential predators.
Paws with Dexterous Abilities
Raccoons possess highly dexterous front paws that function almost like hands. These agile paws allow them to manipulate and examine objects in their environment, aiding in the discovery and acquisition of food. Their nimble fingers are especially adept at exploring crevices and prying open food containers. Its sense of touch is a raccoon’s most heightened sense and, by touching, they receive nearly two-thirds of their sensory data, they can interpret objects very easily. A raccoon has four to five times more nerve endings than the average mammal in the animal world. When a raccoon touches its front paws, they can identify objects and gather much more sensory information than with sight. In other words, their tactile nerve responsiveness is substantially more pronounced than their optical nerve responsiveness. Humans know how skilled these masked bandits are at climbing trees, they have to be able to gather their food before eating it. But a raccoon is also able to rotate their hind feet almost 180° which enables them to climb down from trees headfirst grasping the food item in their paws.
The scientific name for raccoons is Procyon lotor, which literally means “washing bear”. When a raccoon touches the water with their pawsOne of the most puzzling things exhibited by raccoons is their tendency to wash their food. While not all raccoons dunk or wash their food before eating, some individuals will wet their food before consuming it. This behaviour is believed to enhance their tactile sensitivity and remove debris or unwanted flavours from the food. It may also assist in swallowing and digesting as, unlike other mammals, raccoons have very few salivary glands. They will go as far as mimicking washing food even when there is no water available, an indication that this is an innate behaviour.
Raccoons have a hoarding instinct and are known to store excess food for future consumption. They may hide food items in tree cavities, in underground burrows, or other secluded locations. This behaviour helps them survive periods of food scarcity in the wild and establishes a reserve for leaner times, generally during the colder months.
Impact of Human Interaction on Raccoon Feeding Habits
Urbanization and Food Availability
Urbanization has altered the natural habitats of raccoons, providing them with access to novel food sources. Human settlements offer an abundance of food, including garbage, pet food, vegetable gardens, and unsecured compost piles. The easy availability of these resources has contributed to the expansion of raccoon populations in urban areas, and through their food thievery they’ve become more bothersome than most other mammals.
Garbage as an Attractive Food Source
Improperly managed garbage could very well serve as a major attractant for raccoons. Securely sealing garbage cans and employing raccoon-proof bins can help minimize conflicts between humans and raccoons. Additionally, they sometimes fall into the trash or recycle bins to retrieve something to eat, and are unable to get out, this literally means they will die inside, and your sense of smell will direct you to the problem only after it’s too late. Encouraging responsible waste management practices can reduce the reliance of raccoons on human food sources.
Why do raccoons dig holes in the lawn?
A raccoon will dig holes in the grass looking for grubs to eat. Once the grubs are no longer present, they will generally stop digging. You’ll have to acquire a pesticide-free product to eliminate the grubs. But regardless, even without the raccoon searching to eat them, the presence of grubs would kill the patch of lawn that they’re living under and it would turn brown.
Raccoons are fascinating creatures with a versatile diet and unique feeding habits. As opportunistic eaters, these nocturnal animals consume a wide range of food items, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, insects, small mammals, carrion, and even garbage. Their adaptability and dexterous paws enable them to thrive in various environments. However, human influence on their natural habitats has led to changes in their feeding habits. By understanding raccoons' dietary needs and taking steps to mitigate potential conflicts, we can coexist harmoniously with these intriguing animals.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: Are raccoons dangerous?
A: A raccoon is generally not aggressive but it can become defensive if they sense that they’re threatened. It's important to give them space and avoid direct contact, especially if you identify young ones with them at the time. The idea of confronting a mom with young raccoons is not advisable as their behaviour can be unpredictable.
Q: Can raccoons eat pet food?
A: Yes, raccoons are known to raid pet food bowls if left outside, cat food or dog food - it doesn’t matter. It's best to feed your pets indoors to prevent attracting raccoons and/or any other nocturnal animals to your property and committing food thievery. A great number of animals could very well be attracted to your property by doing this.
Q: Do raccoons hibernate?
A: Raccoons do not hibernate but they may stay in their dens for extended periods during harsh weather or when food is scarce. They sleep more often during the winter months but they must exit occasionally for the nearest water source. They bulk up by eating as much as they can in the autumn, sleeping, and living off some of their fat during the lean months.
Q: Are raccoons pests?
A: Raccoons can be pests when they cause property damage, enter attics or chimneys and keep homeowners awake, or when they disturb garbage. Taking preventative measures can minimize such issues. However, they also play a very important role in our ecosystem and they do have much-needed benefits they bring to the table. Without wild raccoons, there would be an increase in the mice/rat community, as well as a higher feral cat population. They also help by scattering seeds from all the foraging they do, the seeds stick to their fur, or they are expelled in their feces and are distributed or fall off as the animal moves from one place to another.
Q: Can raccoons transmit diseases to humans?
A: Raccoons can carry diseases such as rabies and roundworm, but the risk of transmission to humans is relatively low. Roundworm is a parasite found in raccoon feces, and it’s extremely important to dispose of their droppings without coming into contact with it. It's advisable to avoid contact with raccoons that appear sick or aggressive and seek professional help if necessary. Wash your hands thoroughly if you’ve come into contact with anything that might have been contaminated by a raccoon.