Baby Raccoons

Reading Time: 11 mins

Alright, let's dive into the world of baby raccoons! Now, these little critters aren't your everyday domestic pets. Baby raccoons, often called 'kits', are the young of the species scientifically known as Procyon lotor, a North American native that you've probably spotted rummaging through your garbage bins once or twice.

Born typically in litters of two to five, these kits start life as tiny, blind and helpless creatures, entirely dependent on their mama for survival. One of the first things you'll notice about these babies is their famous 'bandit' mask - a patch of black fur that covers their eyes, just like on adult raccoons. Cute, isn't it? But don't let that adorable face fool you! This little mask helps them see clearly even in the dark, making them perfect night-time adventurers.

From their sharp claws designed for climbing and digging to their super-sensitive hands that can even unlatch a garbage can lid, these little rascals are born ready to explore the world! And remember, while their curiosity and cuteness can be entertaining, they're wild animals that should be admired from a distance, for your safety and theirs.



Physical Characteristics


Baby raccoons are incredibly adorable, no doubt about that! Yet, they're more than just their cute, fluffy appearance. At birth, a baby raccoon is about the size of a chipmunk, weighing around 75 grams. Their bodies are covered in soft, silky fur, with the trademark black and gray coat pattern developing within a few weeks. They're born deaf and blind, with their eyes and ear canals closed. It's only after about 18 to 23 days that their eyes and ears open, revealing baby-blue eyes that later darken to a brown hue.

A baby raccoon's most distinguishing feature is the 'mask' of black fur that covers their eyes, a trait that sets them apart from many other creatures. This mask helps reduce glare and enhances their night vision, which is critical for their nocturnal lifestyle.

Another fascinating physical characteristic of baby raccoons is their hands. They have five-fingered paws with incredibly dexterous fingers, almost akin to human hands, but without the thumb opposition. These little hands are super-sensitive and are key to their feeding habits.

Their body size increases rapidly, and by the time they're ready to venture out of the den (around eight weeks), they're about the size of a small cat. With their masked faces, dexterous paws, bushy tails, and curious nature, baby raccoons are well-equipped for their journey into adulthood.



Dousing


From around five weeks of age, their natural curiosity begins to kick in. Raccoons are notorious for their dexterous hands, and this skill begins to develop in their infancy. Baby raccoons love to explore their world by touching and feeling things. If you've ever watched a raccoon eat, you may have noticed they often appear to wash their food. This behavior, also known as dousing, is a way for raccoons to gather more information about their food using their sensitive hands.


Where Do Baby Raccoons Live?


Alright, let's chat about the stomping grounds of baby raccoons! These little bandits are found across North America, and their habitats are as diverse as their diet!

Most commonly, raccoons make their homes in wooded areas near water sources, like rivers or lakes. They are great swimmers after all! Trees play a crucial part in their lives, providing shelter and safety. They cozy up in tree hollows or in ground burrows, depending on what's available.

But don't think these critters are just country folk! Raccoons are incredibly adaptable and have successfully made their way into urban and suburban areas too. They’re notorious for making dens in attics, chimneys, and under decks. These resourceful rascals can turn just about any nook or cranny into a home!



What Do They Eat?


Baby raccoons, also known as kits or cubs, start their gastronomic journey much like human babies, nursing on their mother's milk. For the first few weeks of their lives, that's the only item on their menu.

Once they hit about six to nine weeks old, things start getting exciting on the food front. Their mom introduces them to a diverse array of foods. Talk about a culinary adventure! Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat just about anything, and that diversity begins at a young age.

The menu might include small animals, such as insects, fish, and amphibians. It could also include fruits, nuts, and plant materials. Given a chance, they might also dig into eggs, bird's nestlings, and even the odd garbage can if it's accessible! Not exactly gourmet dining, but hey, it's a raccoon's life!



Predators and Threats


In the animal kingdom, baby raccoons are, unfortunately, on the menu for a variety of predators. These predators can include large birds of prey, such as owls and eagles, and carnivorous mammals like coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. Even within their own species, baby raccoons are at risk. Male raccoons are known to prey on the young, especially those not their own.


Baby Raccoons and Humans


The relationship between humans and baby raccoons is a complex one. It's a tale of fascination, fear, cohabitation, and often, misunderstanding. They're perceived as adorable fluff-balls by some, while others see them as rabies-carrying pests. It's a stark contrast, and it's worth exploring why this dichotomy exists.

When humans encounter baby raccoons, our first instinct might be to "ooh" and "aah" over their endearing masked faces and fuzzy bodies. Their inquisitive nature and seemingly playful antics can be captivating. It's no surprise that they often appear as charming characters in storybooks and animations.

However, there's another side to the coin. The expansion of urban areas into raccoon habitats has led to increased human-raccoon interactions. And not all of them are pleasant. Raccoons are highly adaptable and opportunistic creatures. They raid trash cans, invade homes and gardens, causing significant damage and inconvenience. This has earned them the label of 'pests' among many city dwellers.

A common misconception is that baby raccoons are safe to approach or handle. However, baby raccoons can carry and transmit diseases like rabies or roundworm, posing a threat to human health. Therefore, regardless of how adorable they appear, it's crucial to keep a safe distance and avoid physical contact.



From Birth to Adulthood


Let's take a ride through the life of a baby raccoon, from their birth to becoming self-sufficient adults! Baby raccoons are born in the late spring, and they start their lives blind and deaf, totally dependent on mama raccoon's care. Over the first couple of weeks, they'll gain their sight and hearing, and their adorable masked faces and ringed tails will start to take shape.

Around three weeks old, baby raccoons start to venture outside their dens, albeit very cautiously. Now, this is where the real fun starts! They start exploring their surroundings, getting a taste for the wide variety of foods in their diet, from fruits and plants to insects and smaller animals. 

By about 12 weeks, these little furballs are often seen roaming around without their mother, getting the hang of raccoon life. But don't be fooled! They're not quite ready to go solo just yet. They'll continue living with their mother through their first winter, learning the ropes and staying safe from predators.

Come next spring, the now-adolescent raccoons are ready to leave the nest and venture out into the world. Females might set up their dens close to their birthplace, while males tend to wander further afield. 



Cute but Wild


Raccoons, with their striking black "masks" and bushy ringed tails, can certainly captivate us with their adorable appearance. However, it's important to remember that while they might appear cute and even comical at times, they are, fundamentally, wild animals with behaviors deeply rooted in their instinct and survival mechanisms. 

One of the most distinct traits of raccoons is their innate curiosity. These animals are known to explore their surroundings extensively, using their dexterous paws to examine objects and search for food. This curiosity often leads them to human habitations where they rummage through trash cans or pet food left outside. While this behavior can lead to cute sightings, it can also result in messes and property damage.

Raccoons are also nocturnal creatures. This means they are most active during the night, which can lead to surprising, and sometimes startling, encounters with humans. Their nighttime antics might involve noisy exploration and occasional scuffles with other raccoons.

Despite their small size, raccoons can be fiercely territorial, especially when it comes to their food sources or living spaces. If they feel threatened, they are capable of defending themselves aggressively. And while they tend to avoid humans, they can become confrontational if cornered.

Another important aspect of raccoon behavior is their adaptability. Raccoons are incredibly versatile, thriving in both rural and urban environments. This adaptability often brings them into close contact with humans, leading to a range of interactions, from endearing to problematic.

As cute as they are, it's essential to maintain a respectful distance from raccoons. Their wild nature means they can carry diseases like rabies that can be harmful to humans and pets. Moreover, attempting to feed or domesticate raccoons can disrupt their natural behaviors and diet, often doing more harm than good.



Rehabilitation of Baby Raccoons


When a baby raccoon needs help, it's natural to want to step in, but it's essential to know the dos and don'ts of raccoon rehabilitation.

DO Contact Professionals: If you find a baby raccoon in distress, your first step should be to contact a local wildlife rehabilitation center or animal control agency. They are trained to handle these situations and have the necessary resources to care for wild animals.

DON'T Handle Raccoons Yourself: Raccoons are wild animals, and even babies can scratch or bite if they feel threatened. This behavior could also potentially expose you to diseases like rabies.

DO Observe From A Distance: If you think a baby raccoon has been abandoned, monitor it from afar. Mother raccoons often leave their young alone to forage for food. Interfering too soon might end up separating a baby from its mother.

DON'T Feed the Raccoons: Despite your good intentions, feeding a baby raccoon can cause more harm than good. A baby raccoon's diet is specific and balanced. Feeding them inappropriate food could lead to malnutrition or other health issues.

DO Create A Raccoon-Friendly Environment: If you find raccoons on your property, ensure that it is safe for them until professionals arrive. Keep pets and curious children away, and try to limit noise and disturbances.

DON'T Try To Rehabilitate Raccoons At Home: Raising a baby raccoon requires specific knowledge about their diet, behavior, and medical care. In many places, it's also illegal to keep raccoons as pets without the necessary permits.

DON'T Forget They're Wild Animals: While baby raccoons might seem cute and cuddly, they're wild animals that belong in their natural habitat. The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to help them return to the wild where they can contribute to the ecosystem and live free.


Facts about Baby Raccoons


If you've ever spotted a baby raccoon, you'll agree they're among nature's cutest creations. But there's more to these little critters than just their striped tails and bandit-masked faces. Here are some intriguing facts about baby racoons that go beyond their adorable appearance.

1. They're born blind and deaf: Just like puppies and kittens, baby raccoons, known as kits or cubs, are born without sight or hearing. It takes around three weeks before they open their eyes, and a bit longer for their ears to start functioning.

2. Raccoon moms are super attentive: Female raccoons are excellent mothers. They nurse their babies for about 70 days and continue to care for them until they're ready to face the world on their own, usually around their first birthday.

3. They learn by doing: Raccoons are highly intelligent creatures. Mother raccoons teach their babies essential survival skills such as climbing, hunting, and foraging by demonstration, and the cubs learn quickly by mimicking her actions.

4. Baby raccoons purr: Like domestic cats, baby raccoons produce a purring sound when they're content or nursing. As they grow, their range of sounds expands to include growls, hisses, and even screams to communicate with their family or scare off potential threats.

5. Their hands are super sensitive: A raccoon's front paws are incredibly sensitive, allowing them to identify objects before they touch them directly. This tactile sensitivity makes them excellent foragers and gives them their distinctive hand-washing behavior, as they like to wet their food to enhance their touch sensation.

6. They grow quickly: By the time a baby raccoon is just eight weeks old, it can already climb trees, swim, and forage for food – important skills that enable them to live both in the wild and urban areas.

7. Raccoons have an incredible memory: Raccoons are known to have a fantastic memory, remembering solutions to tasks for up to three years. This memory skill starts developing early and is a significant part of their survival strategy.

8. They are nocturnal: Baby raccoons quickly adapt to their mother's nocturnal schedule. By night, they learn to hunt and explore, while during the day, they rest in their dens.




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