Question: With all of the talk about vicious raccoons in the area, would you please give us more background information?

Answer: The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an animal that most people are familiar with. Raccoons are found throughout the United States, the southern portion of Canada, and throughout Mexico and Central America. These animals are adaptable and thrive in all kinds of habitats from the desert to tropical forests and northern hardwood forests. Raccoons do especially well in urban areas. As Southwest Florida develops into more of an urban environment, the number of raccoons is likely to increase rather than decrease. Urbanization and agriculture help raccoon populations increase because food is more readily available. Therefore, it is common to encounter raccoons near your home.

Recent attacks have sparked much interest. It is necessary to be able to identify the animal and understand its behavior in order to avoid contact. Most of us can identify a raccoon, but for visitors that cannot, a raccoon is a small animal that is 2 to 3 feet long, heavily furred, with a prominent black mask and a ringed tail. In Florida, raccoons are smaller than those found further north. Their color is a grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black. Raccoons are most active from the evening hours until morning, however they can be seen moving around during the day.

Individual raccoons have a home range of one to three square miles and are territorial. If seen in groups, it is either a mother with her young or unassociated adults brought together by one large food source. Raccoon densities of 100 per square mile can be attained if food sources are abundant. Raccoons are classified as carnivores, but they eat plants, fruits, acorns, vegetables, and seeds. They will also eat eggs, insects, crayfish, frogs, fish, and other small mammals. Raccoons will eat dead animals, raid bird feeders, and steal food from pet bowls and garbage cans when they can. Raccoons are not fussy about living quarters. If hollowed out limbs of trees are unavailable, they will choose rock cavities, debris piles, crawl spaces below homes, attics, culverts, and sewer drains.

Raccoons start breeding after one year. In Florida, the annual litter usually occurs in March or April. Many of the females are pregnant at this time of year and may be more aggressive. Each litter consists of about 4 young that may remain with the mother for ten months. Raccoons have few enemies. People, especially in their automobiles, are the biggest threat. Keep in mind that under most conditions, raccoons are harmless, interesting neighbors.

The problems occur when raccoons find food or shelter in or around your home. Prevent feeding from taking place. Never put out food for the raccoons, take in pet food at night and secure garbage can lids. If you have vegetable crops growing in your garden, an electric fence will help keep raccoons out without harming them. Mothballs and other smell tactics will not work. Make sure you seal openings in and around your home as they occur to keep raccoons from taking up residence in your house or under a deck. However, if this does happen, DO NOT chase them away. Once you have a raccoon sharing your home, sealing the entrance will only make the raccoon force its way back in, and cause more damage. A licensed wildlife trapper can remove the animal. It is illegal to trap and release an animal in another location without a permit.

Raccoons should be more afraid of people than we are of raccoons. However, in light of recent attacks, if you see a raccoon, make loud noises while moving erratically. If the raccoon does not run away, you should!

Shannon Ruby is a consultant with a leading ecological management consulting firm in Ft,. Myers.  Feel free to contact her through our website.