July 01, 2022

I have mentioned that we have been having something rummaging around on our screened porch for the last several weeks.  This has resulted in the screens being pushed in and forced us to put the bird feed I have stored on the porch into plastic buckets with lids that can be sealed.  I had at first blamed the squirrels and had hopped it was not the occasional rat we find from the field behind the house.  Last night we heard a noise on the porch, and I went to investigate.  When I switched on the light, I saw an innocent little face peeking over the seed bucket it had knocked over and was trying to pry the lid off.  As he looked up at me, I could almost hear him say, “It wasn’t me!”  When I opened the door, the young raccoon sped off into the night.    

When I looked online, I found the raccoon (Procyon lotor), is a mammal native to North America.  It is the largest of the procyonid family, having a body length of 16 to 28 inches (40 to 70 cm), and a weight of 11 to 57 pounds (5 to 26 kg).  Its grayish coat mostly consists of dense underfur, which insulates it against cold weather.  Escapes and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century have resulted in the raccoon being distributed across much of mainland Europe, the Caucasus, and Japan.  In Europe, the raccoon has included on the list of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern (the Union list) since 2016.  That means it cannot be imported, bred, transported, commercialized, or intentionally released into the environment.  Though once thought to be solitary, recent evidence shows the raccoon engages in social behavior.  Related females may share a common area while unrelated males can live together in small groups to keep out foreign males during mating season and guard against invaders.  After a gestation period of about 65 days, two to five young (kits) are born in spring.  The kits are raised by their mother until dispersal in fall.  Although captive raccoons have been known to live over 20 years, life expectancy in the wild is only 2 to 3 years.  Hunting and vehicular injury are the two most common causes of death. 

Three of the raccoon’s most distinctive features are its dexterous front paws, its facial mask, and its ringed tail.  These features form the themes in the mythologies of Americas indigenous people.  The raccoon is noted for its intelligence, and studies show that it can remember the solution to tasks for at least three years.  The raccoon is usually nocturnal and omnivorous, eating about 40% invertebrates, 33% plants, and 27% vertebrates.  The original habitats of the raccoon are deciduous and mixed forests, but because of their adaptability they have extended their range to prairies, mountainous areas, and coastal marshes.  In urban areas some homeowners consider them to be pests.  When they break through my screens and eat my bird seed, I would be one of them.

THOUGHTS:  When I lived in Berkeley, California, there was a raccoon who would fight the homeless people sleeping along the sidewalk for the food in their packs.  I walked the grounds as security guard, and they would tell me of the battles they had with the animal.  I lived along the street and opened my fence one night to find three sets of raccoon eyes staring at me.  I felt like Val Kilmer facing the lions in the Ghost and the Darkness.  Now that I know what is getting into my seed, I am bound to do something about it.  That means rearraigning the buckets so they cannot be knocked over and securing the screens.  Now that we know how to combat the virus, that should mean we do something about it.  That means vaccinations and monitoring our activity when we do not feel well.  The lions ate those who ignored the threat.  The virus seems to do the same.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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