Raccoons belong to the genus Procyon, which in Latin means ‘before’ (pro) ‘dog’ (cyon) for their seemingly doglike appearance. Their species name lotor (washer) refers to the unusual behavior of often washing their food before eating it (Procyon lotor).
Raccoons have a black mask across the eyes, a bushy tail with anywhere from four to ten black rings. The normal color of a raccoon can vary however the average color is gray-black to reddish brown or buff. The raccoon weighs from 12-30 lbs., but in many urban areas where food is plentiful raccoons can get rather heavy. Their human-like forepaws enable the raccoon to manipulate objects easily, and they have keen eyesight and hearing; They are also excellent climbers and swimmers.
Raccoons are rarely active in the daytime, and do not hibernate but may sleep for long periods. Raccoons are primarily solitary animals. During breeding season males will travel four or six miles from their den, while females seldom travel farther than half a mile.
Raccoons are aggressive fighters if cornered, and pound for pound are one of the toughest animals around. They can often drown their opponent if a battle occurs in water. Very few larger predators will take on a raccoon.
Recipe for Trouble
Raccoons are omnivorous, and their appetite is often the main factor for the damage they cause. Their diet consists of fruits, nuts, insects, earthworms, grubs, rodents, frogs, and bird eggs, among many others. They also have a real affinity for expensive Japanese Koi fish.
A common complaint is damage they cause to the lawn as they search for earthworms and grubs. Large patches of lawn can be torn up, or, if you’ve put in new sod, you may find the sod pieces rolled aside.
Raccoons will eat chickens and their eggs. Poultry loss from raccoons can generally be identified by footprints and the manner in which the chicken was killed and eaten. Usually the head is bitten off, the breast torn open and partially eaten along with some internal organs. Look for bits of flesh near a source of water.
Raccoons are susceptible to both canine and feline diseases, mainly distemper. In Southern California raccoons occasionally suffer outbreaks of canine distemper when raccoon numbers are too large. The disease affects the central nervous system and is fatal. Feline distemper, also known as panleukopenia, can be transmitted to cats and other raccoons.
In the eastern United States raccoon rabies has reached epidemic proportions, and has resulted in the destruction of large numbers of raccoons and companion animals. Currently, California has no raccoon rabies, but the disease is slowly traveling west. California does have other strains of rabies passed from other wildlife such as bats and skunks.
Keep vaccinations for your dogs and cats current to keep them safe from rabies and to prevent the spread of diseases.
Other Raccoon Damage
Raccoons den when it is time to give birth, and sleep when the weather is cool. They may tear off shingles from the roof to gain access to the attic, or take refuge inside an uncapped chimney. Raccoons like to crawl under the eaves of a roof to gain entry to the attic. Large raccoons, especially, can be heard as they scurry across the roof.
Secure chimney screens to fireplace cap and seal gaps under the eaves to prevent access.
Trim all tree branches and tall shrubs away from the roof.
If raccoons are already inhabiting the attic toss a few mothballs in the crawl space. Also try placing a radio in the attic. Once the raccoons have left seal all the entrance points. Be cautious during the spring and summer , there may be a litter of young that cannot escape.
Keep barbeque grills clean and grease free.
Pin new sod to the ground with thin spikes, wooden stakes or cover with thin nylon netting until the grass can take root. Control lawn and garden pests to limit the forage items raccoons are searching for. Contact your local nursery for advice.
Protect fruit trees by securing metal flashing around the base of trees to a height of at least three feet.
Use frightening devices, such as flashing lights, noise and water sprinklers connected to a motion sensor device. Don’t rely solely on these methods as they are generally effective for a short period of time.
An effective way to protect vegetable gardens and poultry houses is to use a hot wire mounted low to the ground. Use a heavier gauge wire to secure chicken pens, and be sure to repair all gaps and spaces.
Don’t Feed The Raccoons
It is unlawful to feed any mammalian predator in the City of Los Angeles-including raccoons (53.06.5 L.A.M.C.). Raccoons can act tame enough to be hand-fed. Do not be fooled. They are a wild animal capable of inflicting a serious bite. They can also carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. Avoid all direct contact with raccoons and other wildlife.
If you’ve got Koi, you’ve got raccoons. If you are considering a Koi pond, think carefully about it’s construction to prevent fish loss from marauding raccoons and herons. If you have an existing pond or are building a new pond consider some of the following remedies to future or present problems:
Construct the pond at least three feet deep. Most animals won’t wade into deeper water.
Gentle slopes into the water make it easy for raccoons to fish; they are not afraid of getting wet.
Provide a submerged ledge in the middle of the pond for fish to hide.
Stretch nylon netting across the surface of the pond.
Employ the use of motion sensor devices, such as lights, noise makers and sprinklers.
Provide plenty of aquatic plants to confuse fishing animals and allow the fish to escape.
Use thick vegetation or boulders on the pond’s edge to further inhibit animals from wading in.
Most wild animals are easily frightened by people. Wildlife such as raccoons, deer, coyotes and bobcats should be scared away at every opportunity. Only through these negative interactions do animals learn to avoid people. Serious wildlife conflicts will likely result in the animals destruction. If you come across a raccoon that doesn’t turn tail and run the animal may be sick, protecting young or conditioned to the presence of humans through feeding. In any case you should contact your local animal care and control.