Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 23 >> Puvis De Chavannes to Radium Therapy >> Raccoon

Raccoon

animals, america, tail, six, american, fur, south and fish

RACCOON, the name, of Indian derivation, given to the typical members of the Procyonitia, a family of carnivorous mammals, resembling the bears in their plantigrade feet and other characteristics, but differing from them espe cially in the long tail, sharp snout, slender body and moderate size. All of the five or six known genera are confined to America, though the related Asiatic genus Zhirus is now placed here. (See PANDA). The members of the typical genus Procyon possess six incisors, two canines, eight premolars and four molars In each jaw, and the group is well exemplified in the com mon raccoon (Procyon lotor) which derives its specific name of lotor, as washer; from its habit of washing its prey before eating it, or of holding the food in the fore paws and shalt. ing it violently backward and forward in the water so as to moisten and saturate it as thor• oughly as possible. The German name Wasch bar, or awashing-bear* and the raton or raton laveur are also applied because of this curious habit. The raccoon is a heavily built animal, about three feet long, with a pointed snout, short ears and bushy tail alternately ringed with black and white. The general body color is a sooty or blackish-gray, and the fur consists of a close set of under hairs, with larger outer hairs, the latter being marked black and white. The upper part of the head and the portion across the eyes are colored dark brown: Throughout most of the United States the me• coon is abundant, and on the Pacific side reaches from Alaska to Central America. In spite of the settlement of the country and much persecution it generally holds its own, and in many sections is actually increasing in num, hers. These animals, although typically carniv orous, yet seem to feed largely upon, and in deed to prefer, vegetable matters. In the natural state their food consists of all kinds of small birds and their eggs, mice, reptiles, frogs, cray fish, mussels, oysters, nuts, fruits, etc. Occa sionally they catch fish or clear out a hen roost, and their frequent depredations upon fields of corn, of which they are very fond in the milk stage, has gained them the enmity of farmers. Raccoons are among the most strictly nocturnal of American mammals, and spend the day in sleep, usually in a hollow limb or tree trunk. During the winter they pass into an intermittent state of hibernation. About April, four to six young are born, which remain with the parents for a year or more, forming the small parties in which these animals are usually found. The raccoons are much hunted

by means of dogs, which force the animal to take refuge in a tree, whence it is dislodged by climbing. The subtlety and cunning dis played by these animals in their endeavors to escape have become quite proverbial — expres sions such as °sly 'coon,* ((wake as a 'coon,* indicating these qualities. They are, however, very easily trapped, and when taken young make very gentle and interesting pets. They use their fore paws almost as expertly as a monkey its hands, and their great curiosity prompts them to investigate everything which attracts their attention. The agouara or crab eating raccoon (P. cancrivorus) is found throughout South America. It is generally larger than the common species, the tail being shorter, of a tint, and marked with six black rings. The fur is blackish-gray, tinted with yellow, and of variable lights and shades over the different regions of the body. The eyes are surrounded by dark-brown patches, which run into the ears, and terminate in a patch on the top of the head. Although denom inated <

Related genera are Bassaris, of which B. astuta extends from Mexico into the south western United States, Nasua, the curious ar boreal coatis of Mexico and South America, and Cercoleptes, represented by the Central and South American kinkajou, which has a long protractile tongue. Consult Stone and Cram, (London 1902) ; Ingersoll, Ernest, (ib. 1893); Seton, E. T.,

a small wild-dog-like animal (Nycterestes procyonides) of eastern China and Japan, much resembling a miniature raccoon in appearance, especially about the head. It lives in burrows, gathers most of its food (fish, crabs, etc.) along the banks of rivers, and is frequently kept in captivity, especially among the Japanese, who also value its fur and eat its flesh. Its fur is long and grizzled, but hand some; its muzzle sharp, ears short and tail short and bushy. Consult Mivart, (Dogs, Jack als, Wolves and Foxes' (1$90).