Procyon lotor Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Raccoons are common throughout Florida, including the Keys. They are found nearly everywhere there is water and cover.
Florida raccoons are smaller than raccoons in the northern US. Adults only weigh 3-9 kg (6.6-20 lb) and are about the size of a large, stout domestic cat. They have a bushy tail marked with 4-7 alternating brown and black rings, and a black facial mask edged with white above and below. Light cinnamon-colored raccoons show up quite frequently in south Florida.
Raccoons have five toes on both front and back feet, the soles of the feet are bare, and the claws are short and curved. The front feet are well adapted for manipulating objects, and the species is well known for its dexterous handling of objects.
Raccoons are also one of Florida’s most common urban animals, frequently seen around parks, campsites and homes. Under most circumstances they are fun to watch and harmless when left alone. Problems arise because people find it difficult not to feed them. Raccoons are highly intelligent animals that will eat practically anything, and it takes only a few handouts from well-meaning people to teach them that humans are a source of food. When raccoons become conditioned to seeing humans as a source of food they can become a problem. They raid garbage cans, find their way into garages and sheds, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
Because they may carry distemper and rabies, any contact with a raccoon is dangerous. Even though they look really cute Do not feed them. Most rabies outbreaks in Florida are associated with raccoons, in fact each year, raccoons account for 65% of cases of animal rabies in the state.
The word ‘raccoon’ is thought to be derived from an American Indian word meaning ‘one who scratches with his hands.’ Because raccoons use their hands to search for food, both on land and in water, there is a commonly held belief that raccoons always wash their food before eating it. Even the raccoon’s Latin name ‘lotor’ means ‘the washer.’ However the belief is not true. The most likely explanation for the washing behavior is that raccoons are not washing the food but feeling for frogs and crayfish beneath the surface. Studies have shown that the dabbling behavior – we interpret it as washing – is a stereotyped behavior pattern used for searching for aquatic food in the wild.
Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Raccoons are serious predators on nesting birds and sea turtle eggs. On prime turtle nesting beaches park staff patrol the beach early in the morning to locate turtle crawls and identify nest sites. You may notice sandy areas marked with a wooden stake and covered wire mesh. These are turtle nests that have been covered in an attempt to stop raccoons digging up the eggs.
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