Common Name - Raccoon

Category - Mammals

ScientificName - Procyon lotor

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Mammalia

Order - Carnivora

Family - Procyonidae

Genus - Procyon

Species - lotor


Description - Gray-brown or brownish black in color with gray or light underneath; broad head with pointed snout and black facial mask outlined in white; small ears; bushy tail with alternating black or brown-gray rings; males slightly larger than females

Size - 24 – 37 in. (60.3 – 95.0 cm) long; 12 – 30 lbs. (5.4 – 13.5 kg.) weight 

Ecological Role - A parasitic roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis, may be transmitted to other mammals and birds through the solid wastes. Transmission of this roundworm may be responsible for a decline in Allegheny woodrat populations. The raccoon is a carrier of rabies, and may also transmit diseases such as leptospirosis, canine distemper, and giardiasis. They often host ectoparasites such as fleas, ticks, and lice.

Raccoons are occasional predators of many species of invertebrates, fish, reptile eggs, birds, and mammals. They fall prey to other animals such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and owls.

The raccoon is primarily crepuscular and nocturnal, that is it is most active and generally feeds at dusk and dawn and through the night. Most feeding activity occurs in the earlier hours of the night. It may sleep in trees throughout the day. Raccoons are not efficient hunters and generally eat whatever is easy to obtain.

Raccoons can use both ground dens and tree dens and will often use dens abandoned by opossums, skunks, coyotes, and groundhogs.

Fun Facts - Raccoons are solitary animals that sometimes feed and den in groups. An excellent tree climber, the raccoon can descend trees backward or forward. It can also run and swim.

The species name lotormeans “washer” because raccoons appear to wash food items in lakes and streams. Actually they are using their highly sensitive fingers to search the bottoms of streams for crayfish and other prey, or to manipulate their food. This manipulation of food may also serve to soften and tear it for eating. Washing movements are often used even when water is not available. Raccoons thoroughly chew their food before swallowing.

The palms of the raccoon’s forepaws are very sensitive to touch. Their ability to use their hands much like humans do may account for our fascination with them. The raccoon has a plantigrade gait, meaning that they walk on the soles of their feet like bears and humans. Bobcats and coyotes use a digitigrade gait, meaning that they walk on their toes.

Food - The raccoon is an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on a variety of plant and animal materials that are easily accessible during each season. In the spring their diet consists of crayfish, insects such as grasshoppers and caterpillars, small mammals such as mice and ground squirrels, eggs, frogs, fish, snails, mussels, and other foods easily obtained near or on the ground and near water. Dead animals, or carrion, are sometimes eaten. In the summer and fall, they feed on crayfish; fruits such as apples, wild cherries, persimmons, and wild grapes; nuts, such as acorns, beechnuts, and walnuts; grains such as millet, oats, sorghum, and wheat. Acorns are an important part of the winter and early spring diet.

Cover - Dens in hollow trees, under logs or rocks, or in ground burrows dug by red foxes, groundhogs, and skunks; a separate birthing den is used although no nest is made; all dens are near water.


Breeding - January - April, peaking in February; some females produce a late litter if the first attempt fails


Habitat - Forested wetland areas; riparian zones along streams and shorelines; mature woodlands with hollow trees, snags and fallen logs; prefers mixed hardwood forests over pines; often found in cities and suburbs

Kentucky Distribution - Common statewide

Life Cycle

Life Span

Life Stage


Seasonal Changes - The raccoon does not migrate or hibernate during the winter months. It builds up fat reserves in the fall and grows a heavy fur coat to help it stay warm. It may become dormant inside a den during heavy snows or very cold weather. The young are often more active in winter months than the adults.

The diet of the raccoon may change from spring to winter, depending upon what insects, worms, fruits, and nuts are available. Animals are a more important part of the diet in the spring, whereas plants are more important during the rest of the year.


Status - Abundant


Voice - Young chitter; mothers twitter or purr; hissing and barking expresses fear; growls and snarls show aggression

Young - Born in 63 – 65 days (usually March – June); one litter of 3 – 5 per year is usual; young are called kittens; born with pigmented skin showing facial mask and tail markings; body sparsely covered with hair; eyes and ear canals closed; weigh about 4 – 8 ounces (113 – 227 gm) at birth; eyes open and can hear in about 20 days; walk at 4 – 5 weeks; run and climb at 7 weeks; weaned and leave den in about 10 weeks; young look similar to adult and stay with mother until fall or winter; although some females will reach reproductive age their first year, the vast majority of males and about 60% of females do not reproduce until their second year; can live about 16 years in the wild but most die earlier due to hunting, trapping, and automobiles 

What We Can Do - Protect mature hardwood forests and woodlands near water. Encourage the growth of fruit and nut trees. Starvation is a major cause of death for the young during winter months. Prevent intense fires, grazing of woodlots, and cutting of old trees. Do not remove den trees or damaged trees that are potential dens.

Raccoons adapt well to urban and suburban habitats. In these settings, what we can do for the raccoon is often an issue of management where prevention is easier than eviction. Protect gardens and small agricultural plots with a single wire electric fence. Cap chimneys and close off entries that might encourage a raccoon to move into a building. Minimize food sources that attract raccoons, such as open garbage containers and pet foods. Trapping or eliminating a raccoon from an area but leaving a food source or an entryway only invites another raccoon to move in. Scare tactics, such as the use of smoke, may cause a mother to abandon her young, leading to their death. Contact a professional animal control officer to safely trap and handle live raccoons.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources regulates the hunting and trapping of raccoons in Kentucky.


Diagnosis and Control

Interesting Facts

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