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Learning About Raccoon Behavior

This article first appeared in the August 7, 2020 edition of the Davis Enterprise

Learning About Raccoon Behavior

A raccoon in the wild. Photo by Greg Schechter.

Learning About Raccoon Behavior


By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise


Raccoons are common mammals found all over North America and other parts of the world.  Best known for their black mask and ringed tail, these fuzzy animals are intelligent and have adapted well to life alongside humans.  But what makes raccoon behaviors so unique?


A raccoon’s natural habitat is forested areas with tall trees to climb when evading predators.  They do not like open spaces as they are not able to run very fast and rely on either hiding under an object or climbing to escape threats.  Raccoons look for tree hollows to den in when sleeping or caring for young.  When tall areas are unavailable, raccoons have been seen using burrows abandoned by other animals.


Primarily nocturnal animals, raccoons are out at night to best evade predators who rely on sight to hunt.  The mask on their face is thought to reduce glare and help them see and navigate in the dark.  Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they can and do eat just about everything.  In the wild they feed on insects, amphibians, fish, eggs, nuts, and fruits.  An opportunistic eater, raccoons are not shy about going through trash cans at campgrounds and urban areas for an easy meal.


One of the more puzzling behaviors of raccoons is ‘dousing’ or putting food in water.  When first observed it was thought that they did not have saliva glands and needed to moisten foods, but that has since been proven untrue.  Many then believe that these animals are washing their food before eating it.  Raccoons have very nimble and dexterous fingers, but lack thumbs so they need to hold food with both hands to ensure a proper grip on their meal.  When observed dousing their food in water, they are moving it around in their hands.  This movement has been observed even with water is not available to the animal.  It is still not entirely clear why raccoons put their food in water before eating it, but it could be to increase the tactile experience.  By getting their hands wet they increase nerve sensitivity, just like when our hands get wet.  They can then better feel their food which could help how they eat it.


The campers in our Wild and Wonderful Animal Behavior Summer Science Camp this week learned about many fun and unique animal behaviors including raccoons.  They also observed the footprints of several animal species in Mace Ranch Park with ground sprinkled flour “track traps” including raccoon, neighborhood cats, and birds.


Explorit's coming events:


•       Fall Camps are being planned to help enrich your student’s science learning while area schools are in a digital learning format.  Keep an eye on our website and social media for more details.


•       Explorit Science Center has been providing hands- on science opportunities in Davis for 38 years!  Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability.  Now is a great time to consider a donation to help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:


•       Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member.  Membership grants you free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world.  For more information or to purchase or renew your membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.


•       Explorit’s gallery museum continues to be closed due to COVID restrictions.  We look forward to re-opening our Light and Sound exhibit as soon as it is safe and allowed.



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