A raccoon (also spelled racoon) is a nocturnal mammal in the genus Procyon of the Procyonidae family. Raccoons are unusual for their thumbs, which (though not opposable) enable them to open many closed containers (such as garbage cans) and doors. They are intelligent omnivores with a reputation for being clever and mischievous. Raccoons range from 19.69 to 39.37 in (50 to 100 cm) long (including the tail) and weigh between 9.92 and 35.27 lb (4.5 and 16 kg). The raccoon’s tail ranges from 7.87 to 15.75 in (20 to 40 cm) long. Male raccoons are generally larger than females. A baby raccoon is called a kit.
Raccoons are nocturnal and omnivorous, eating berries, insects, eggs and small animals. Raccoons sometimes wash, or douse, their food in water before eating it. It is unknown why raccoons perform dousing, but cleaning food is unlikely to be the reason. Studies have found that raccoons engage in dousing motions when water is unavailable. Researchers note that captive raccoons are more likely than wild raccoons to douse food. It has been suggested that captive raccoons are mimicking fishing and shellfish-foraging behaviors. It may also be that the raccoon is searching for unwanted material, as water is thought to heighten their sense of touch.
As city dwellers in the United States and Canada increasingly move into rural areas, raccoons are often considered pests because they forage in trash receptacles or eat dog food left on back porches. Raccoons also pose a serious risk to any household pet within their vicinity. It is not uncommon at all for a raccoon to seriously injure, kill or eat cats and small dogs. The raccoon has also adapted well to city life.
Raccoons can carry Baylisascaris roundworm, canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies. Of the 6,844 documented rabies cases reported in the United States in 2004, 37.5% were raccoons. Seeing a raccoon during the day is an indicator, though not absolute, that the animal is ill. Rabies may be entirely without symptoms in the raccoon.