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The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a medium-sized mammal that is common throughout Indiana. Its black mask makes it easy to identify. Raccoons are found in both urban and rural areas. They are native only to North America
Raccoons occur statewide. They are most numerous where a mix of woodlands, cropland and shallow water are found. Northeastern Indiana, with its many glacial lakes, is where the raccoon population is the greatest. The farmland of central Indiana is also home to many raccoons. The heavily forested south-central hills and northwestern prairie regions are less attractive to raccoons. Under ideal conditions, raccoon levels can approach one per acre. Even in less favorable habitat, they still may occur at a rate of about one per 40 acres.
Most mating occurs in January or February, when the daylight increases. The male assumes no part in family life. Most raccoons are born in tree cavities. If den tree sites are not readily available, a female may use abandoned barn lofts, rock outcroppings, ground burrows or even attics and chimneys to give birth.
Litters are usually born in April or May and range in size from one to nine, although the average is four. By mid-June, most young raccoons accompany their mother on food searches and begin to learn survival skills.
Raccoons are opportunists, eating both plants and animals. Some common food sources are:
If water is nearby, the raccoon will appear to wash its food; however, the animal is actually kneading and tearing at the food, feeling for matter that should be rejected. Wetting its paws enhances the raccoon’s touch. If water is not nearby, the raccoon will forego this ritual.
In the 1920s, raccoon coats were fashionable. Pelt prices soared and raccoon numbers crashed. This decline resulted in the purchase of raccoons by the Indiana Department of Conservation and private clubs for restocking. Breeding stock was purchased from other states, and raccoons were raised for release. In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, raccoon numbers increased throughout the Midwest, even in areas where stocking had not been attempted. In spite of isolated disease outbreaks—primarily canine distemper—a high raccoon population has been maintained since the 1960s. The raccoon harvest is monitored annually, and surveys show statewide abundance. Evidence gathered concerning raccoons indicates this mammal had found its niche in our modern environment and is here to stay.
Raccoons can often cause problems for landowners. Here are some tips for preventing raccoons around your home or garden: