By Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.
How much do you REALLY know about raccoons?
If you missed it, our science comedian extraordinaire Brian Malow interviewed Arielle Parsons of the Nature Research Center’s Biodiversity Lab during one of today’s SECU Daily Planet talks! Parsons, a research technician at our Museum, is a wildlife biologist with experience in predator management and endangered species conservation. Today, inside the giant Daily Planet, she talked about raccoons!
Do you think you know a lot about our furry nocturnal companions? Try to answer these questions that Parsons asked during her talk! Then, you can check your answers at the bottom of this blog post!
Question: There is only one species of raccoon. Answer: False! If you live in the United States, the raccoons you might be used to seeing roaming about your yard at night belong to the species known as the Northern Raccoon. However, there are two other species of raccoons. The pygmy raccoon is an endangered species that lives in parts of Mexico. The crab-eating raccoon (which indeed eats crabs and other crustaceans!) lives in Central and South America.
Question: Raccoons wash their food. Answer: False! While raccoons are often seen dipping their hands into water as they sit next to a stream, they are not washing their food. According to Parsons, they are actually using sensory organs on their paws, which are more sensitive when wet, to “feel” their food in order to be able to tell what it is and whether it is good to eat!
Question: Raccoons are smart. Answer: True! Raccoons are known to be very smart. While scientists haven’t been able to test their IQ levels necessarily, scientists have observed that when given enough time, raccoons in the lab can “pick” many of the complex locks that are used to secure them into their cages!
Question: All raccoons out in the daytime have rabies. Answer: False! While raccoons are known to sometimes carry rabies, not all raccoons carry the disease. You should always be cautious around these animals, especially if you see one out in the daytime acting strangely. However, many raccoon mothers venture out in the daytime to forage for food while their babies are still young.
Question: Raccoons eat anything edible. Answer: True! According to Parsons, most raccoons will eat pretty much anything that they can get their paws on that is edible. When Parson is doing research in the field, she feeds her raccoons marshmallows!
Question: Raccoons’ black mask helps them see at night. Answer: False, but scientists are not sure. Most research confirms that raccoon’s black masks help to scare off predators. However, Parsons and other scientists still think that the black fur around their eyes might help raccoons to see better at night by reducing glare, or light reflections.
Question: Raccoons make different calls, or vocalizations. Answer: True! Raccoons make 13 different vocalizations, or sounds, that are used to scare predators away, to signal distress, or to call others, among other uses.
Question: Raccoons make good pets. Answer: False! Raccoons are wild animals. Although some people have tried to make them into pets, raccoons can get into trouble biting through furniture and tearing things up in the house! Raccoons can be very aggressive, and in some places it is actually illegal to keep a pet raccoon.