Raccoons

Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Procyon lotor

Appearance

Procyon lotor is more commonly known as the raccoon. They are 61 to 91 cm long and have a distinctive black mask with a ringed tail.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

The raccoon’s nocturnal exploits have earned it a place throughout American culture. They are best known for their curious and mischievous nature, especially when it comes to trash cans.

Many home and business owners are forced into protective measures so their refuse isn’t scattered on a nightly basis. In fact, such actions earned the raccoon movie roles like the one in The Great Outdoors. It’s hard to believe that such a pest has earned both our ire and affection.

Typically, raccoons prefer to inhabit hollow trees and logs near lakes and streams. They are known to venture into populated areas, becoming a nuisance as they search for refuge and forage for food. Raccoons will also use existing structures to construct a den. Some of their favorite habitats are the areas beneath porches and outbuildings, attics and chimneys.

During the months of spring and early summer, diet consists primarily of insects, frogs, fish and crayfish. They are known to roll back sod in search of earthworms and grubs (doing significant damage to lawns). During late summer and fall, raccoons move to nuts, grains, berries, fruits and sweet corn from gardens. Whether local residents or simply foraging, easily observable signs of raccoon activity are damaged lawns and raided garbage cans.

What do raccoons eat?

Raccoons are omnivores and will eat both plants and animals. Some of their common plant-based food sources include seeds, fruits, berries, acorns, nuts, and grains such as corn. Raccoons frequently eat animals like crawfish, fish, clams, snails, insects, frogs, and mice, as well. Raccoons also consume chicken and other kinds of bird eggs. Another common source of food for raccoons is waste generated by humans. Raccoons are frequently cited eating out of homeowner garbage cans. The mammal also prefers to consume uneaten pet foods left outside.

Reproduction

Raccoons are very social animals within their family groups. They mate from February to March, and females carry the young for approximately 60 days. A standard litter produces three to five young. At about 2 months of age, the young raccoons will begin accompanying their mother on outings to find food. The family group usually stays together for about one year. Upon maturation, an adult raccoon will vary in size from 61 to 91 cm in length and 4.5 to 13.5 kg.

Signs of a Raccoon Infestation

Raccoons are their own sign. The others signs can be their feeding damage, such as overturned trash cans or partially eaten garden items, such as corn or melons. Another sign can be the structural damage they may cause as they try to enter buildings, such as into attics.

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Since raccoons enjoy raiding trash cans, it’s best to use ones made of tough materials like hard plastics and metal. Cans should have tight-fitting lids and straps or clamps to help hold them shut. Finally, it’s recommended the cans be tied to a support or placed in a rack where they can’t be tipped over. Raccoons have an affinity for chimneys, as well. Access to this area can be restricted through purchase of a commercial spark arrestor cap or heavy screen wire secured over any openings.

The other means by which raccoons can be controlled is capture or trapping. Check local regulations for trapping and relocation requirements. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your pest control professional who has training in resolving unwanted pest issues in the correct ways.

What are some prevention tips homeowners can follow to prevent a raccoon infestation?

The important proactive approaches to preventing raccoon problems are minimize access to suitable foods, shelter and water. Also, preventing a raccoon problem and their associated property damage may require trapping and removing the animal. It is important to understand that, while there are many effective and safe methods to prevent raccoons, it always is best to seek advice, recommendations and help from your pest management professional.

Inspection

The first component of a prevention program is inspection. To determine what is required, the homeowner needs to be sure that raccoons are the culprit and find where their activity is occurring. Evidence of raccoons on the property includes:

  • Damage
  • Fecal droppings (scat)
  • Tracks
  • Seeing raccoons either roaming the property and entering or exiting a den site
  • Garbage containers overturned or opened by raccoons as they feed on waste foods.
  • Noises from raccoon activity such as movement on the roof or in the attic, especially at night since raccoons are nocturnal and usually more active during the hours of darkness.

Exclusion & Habitat Modification

Generally, Exclusion is the most effective long-term method the homeowner can employ to help prevent raccoon damage. The following tips are helpful to recognize and help prevent raccoon activity in the attic or other parts of the home.

  • Seal any part of the home where raccoons may gain access. Inspect large gaps, crawl space access doors, chimneys, gable ends, areas under the eave, areas under decks and garage door openings. Seal or repair potential entry points. Tracks are often evidence there is raccoon activity in crawl spaces or under decks. Typical raccoon access points include holes about four inches in diameter or damaged siding, roofs, gables or under soffits.
  • Make sure vents in the roof or soffit are heavy duty and animal proof.
  • Cut trees back 6’ to 8’ away from your home to prevent access to the roof.
  • Install caps that cover the chimney or other roof vents.

Reduce Available Food Sources

  • Keep trash cans clean and debris picked up.
  • If practical, keep refuse containers inside the garage, and set out for pickup in the morning rather than the night.
  • Keep tight fitting lids on refuse containers. If raccoons are removing lids to get into the can, use a heavy duty bungee cord over the top of the can.
  • Do not allow leftover pet foods to remain outside.
  • If you have fruit trees, remove any fruit on the ground.
  • Cover compost piles to prevent raccoons from feeding on food scraps
  • Quit using bird feeders if you suspect they might attract raccoons.
  • Raccoons in the garden may require an electrical fence around the garden plot.

Limit Available Water

  • If raccoons are getting into a small fishpond or other decorative water pond, use wire mesh to cover the pond.
  • Ensure that low spots where water pools are either filled in or drained.
  • Make sure that downspouts direct water away from the house and other areas of the property so water doesn’t collect.
  • Swimming pools can be a special problem. If practical, keep the pool covered at night. If you notice raccoon feces in the pool, contact your pool maintenance company for assistance since raccoon feces may cause disease if the pool is not properly disinfected.

Trapping

Non-lethal traps may be necessary to prevent raccoons using the attic or other part of the house as a nest site. The most important trapping tip is let your pest management professional do the trapping. Do-it-yourself trapping programs may lead to problems such as bites, falls from ladders and contact with raccoons and their wastes that can cause disease problems.

Repellents

There are many compounds on the market advertised as raccoon repellents, so consult your pest management professional before using repellents. Some are effective at repelling raccoons that are simply roaming in search of a new territory. However, a female raccoon with young in the nest is a much more challenging situation since she is not likely to be repelled from her nest and abandon her babies by simply using a repellent.

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