The most distiguishable charateristics of the raccoon are the black mask across its eyes and its bushy black-ringed tail. All four paws contain five toes and a raccoon’s paw has a shape that is similar to that of a human hand. Raccoons can vary in color, with coats containing shades of grey, reddish brown, or tan.
Raccoons measure an average of 2-3 feet (61.0-91.4 cm) in length. They weigh between 10 and 30 pounds (4.5-13.6 kg), depending on which area of the country they inhabit and what types of food they have access to.
Raccoons are omnivores, eating both plant and animal material. They will consume almost anything they can find. They feed primarily on plant material such as fruits and nuts, but will also consume crayfish, insects, rodents, frogs, and bird eggs. Raccoons will also consume food items that are discarded by humans. At Cosley Zoo, the raccoons are fed a commercially prepared canine diet and fruit.
Female raccoons generally give birth to one litter per year. Young raccoons are born in May after a 60-73 day gestation. Litter sizes can range from 1 to 8 young, with 3 to 4 being the most common. Young raccoons are blind and completely helpless when they are born. After 18 to 24 days, their eyes and ear canals open. They are weaned and begin to find their own food after 2-3 months of age. Young raccoons usually stay with their mothers for the first year of their lives.
Raccoons seem to prefer living in wooded areas near water, using trees or woodchuck burrows for their dens. However, raccoons can also be found in a variety of other habitats, including suburban and urban areas. They utilize these areas by eating food from gardens and garbage cans and denning in attics and garages. Rather than suffering from depleted populations due to habitat loss, raccoons have thrived and taken full advantage of this closer contact with humans.
The life expectancy of a wild raccoon is uncertain, but many experts agree that it probably ranges between 3 and 6 years. Raccoons in human care can live more than 15 years.
Because of their varied diet, raccoons are an important part of the food chain. They are responsible for maintaining the population size of many smaller prey animals.