Racoons are a loveable and largely misunderstood member of the animal kingdom, and can be found at varying points throughout the world – although they are mostly associated with North America.
However, despite their widespread placement, and the fact that they are cute and loved within popular culture, there are still many misconceptions held by those who encounter them – such as their classification, hygiene, and behavior.
So for the purpose of this article, we will take a little look at what racoons actually are, and what place they hold within the animal kingdom. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Many people have a lot of different ideas about where racoons are classified within the animal kingdom, with many confusing them with rodents, breeds of fox, and even marsupials like the wombat, koala, and kangaroo.
Are Racoons Marsupials?
The short answer is that, no, racoons are not marsupials, and there are many genetic reasons why this is just not the case.
Marsupials belong collectively to the class marsupialia, and are characterized by their general ability to hold their young in a pouch on their bellies.
This is true of other marsupials like kangaroos and wallabies, who gestate their young in this manner, as opposed to the regular way – wherein a fetus is nurtured inside the womb of the mammal and nourished via a placenta.
Another basic fact of their anatomy that separates them from regular mammals, is that they do not have the same formation of teeth.
Regular mammals generally incisors on the front, canines either side, and then molars at the back.
This makes them suited to tearing the flesh of their prey for food – something marsupials cannot do, leading them to live a predominantly herbivorous lifestyle.
Are Racoons Rodents?
Racoons are also misconstrued for rodents, perhaps due to their scavenger nature, and the fact that they can often be found near refuse.
However, they are not members of the rodentia family, and have many differences on a biological level from their mouse-like counterparts.
Firstly, racoons are generally several times larger than most species of rodent, which is a major classifier against them being a part of this class.
Similarly, rodents don’t grow incisors, while racoons do, signaling a distinct difference in lifestyle and eating habits.
What Class Do Racoons Belong To?
Racoons are mammals, and are the largest member of the procyonidae family – a family shared with ringtails, cacomistles, coatis, kinkajous, olingos, and olinguitos.
Generally omnivorous, along with the other members of this family, racoons can eat both meat and vegetation, and their natural scavenger hunting style can lead them to wander into urban and suburban areas looking for food – especially as humans have migrated outwards and industrialized once rural areas.
Are Racoons Dangerous?
Whether racoons are dangerous or not depends both on the racoon and individual involved.
By and large, they are generally intelligent and emotional creatures, and their rather inquisitive natures have brought them into frequent contact with humans.
This higher frequency of encounters has received mixed reception from humans, with some considering them pests or vermin, and others actively feeding and encouraging their presence.
Racoons & Humans
Despite their interactions with humans, racoons are generally shy and introverted creatures, opting to flee when approached, rather than fight their attackers.
This generally makes them fairly harmless to humans and pets, however one should never underestimate a cornered animal – especially if it is suffering from neurological/bacterial conditions like rabies.
Racoons & Pets
However, racoons have been known to act defensively towards pets, especially if a dog or cat goes in close to investigate and the racoon becomes startled.
Racoons have claws and sharp teeth, as well dexterous front hand-like paws that make them much more capable and quick than other animals of their ilk.
Do Racoons Carry Rabies?
The source of anxiety for many homeowners is whether or not the racoons in question have rabies. Racoons can be carriers of the disease, and members of their family are especially prone to catching it.
Rabies can be spread through bites, and the infectious material is located in the saliva, making it fairly easy to contract, especially when unknowingly handling infected animals.
This is why it is always best never to take the chance with a wild animal, as you never know which ones have the disease and which ones don’t.
What Are The Signs?
In racoons, the symptoms of rabies can often be misconstrued with simple behavioral characteristics.
Many ill informed people often mistake a racoon who isn’t fearful of humans for having the disease, however, this is a myth, and is usually the result of increased socialization of racoons and humans in urban areas.
The symptoms of rabies take on a very specific form – that is, a sickly appearance, poor mobility, abnormal vocalization, and heightened aggressiveness towards other animals and humans.
This makes the disease relatively diagnosable, but caution should still be taken when in proximity to wild racoons.
Should You Feed Racoons?
Generally speaking, animal experts and governmental bodies warn residents of such areas not to actively feed racoons, as this could lead to an increased dependence on human beings for their meals, as well as encouraging the racoons themselves to cross more boundaries – such as entering homes etc.
However, many people actively feed their nocturnal visitors, and as such more domesticated, humanized racoons have been known to approach humans they encounter hoping for food or treats.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about racoons, and their place within the animal kingdom.
Racoons are amazing and unique creatures, which often get a bad rap, due to their reputation as scavengers – not to mention their unjustified association with rodents and other perceived pests.
But whatever your opinion, these mammals are some of the most intriguing creatures around, and are a credit to any natural environment.