raccoon, nocturnal New World mammal of the genus Procyon. The common raccoon of North America, Procyon lotor, also called coon, is found from S Canada to South America, except in parts of the Rocky Mts. and in deserts. It has a stocky, heavily furred body, a pointed face, handlike forepaws, and a bushy tail. It is 11/2 to 21/2 ft (46–76 cm) long, excluding the 8 to 12 in. (20–30 cm) tail, with mixed gray, brown, and black hair, a black face mask, and black rings on the tail. It lives mostly in wooded areas and usually feeds along lakes and streams. A good climber, it often nests in a hollow tree or climbs aloft for refuge. It has a highly omnivorous diet, including nuts, seeds, fruits, eggs, insects, frogs, and crayfish. When water is available it may dip its food before eating; this so-called washing is associated with behaviors used for location and capture of aquatic prey, such as crayfish and frogs. Raccoons do not hibernate but sleep through cold spells in their dens. Their metabolism is normal during these periods and they wake easily. Adult males are usually solitary; females and young live in family groups. Raccoons have proved highly adaptable to civilization and are found even in large cities, where they feed on garbage. They are a minor nuisance in fields and gardens, but are valuable as destroyers of insects; their durable fur is used for coats and trimmings. The crab-eating raccoon, P. cancrivorus, is a semiaquatic, reddish-colored South American species. Other species are found on Caribbean islands. The raccoon family also includes the New World coatimundi, cacomistle (ring-tailed cat), and kinkajou. Raccoons are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Procyonidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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