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August 23, 2019

Raccoons: “Trash Pandas”

By Lauren Hogarth

Raccoons are medium-sized mammals that are about 2-3 feet in length. They have round, stocky bodies and their coats are made of salt-and-pepper colored fur. Raccoons are known best for the “bandit mask” of black fur around their eyes, and black rings around their fluffy tails. They have a 5-fingered paw with opposable thumbs, allowing extreme cheekiness.

Nicknamed “coons” for short, we rarely spot these mammals during the day because of their nocturnal lifestyle. Raccoons live throughout the United States but have become increasingly common in the forested eastern portions.

Habitat and Diet

Raccoons prefer to live in forest areas close to a body of water. Although commonly in association with water and trees, we also find them around farmsteads and livestock watering areas. Typically these mammals like to den in ground burrows, brush piles, hollow trees, muskrat dens and runs, abandoned buildings and barns, dense clumps of cattail, haystacks, and crevices in rocks. They are also notorious for overtaking parts of homes, including attics, chimnies, and hollow areas beneath porches to make dens.

Raccoons are omnivorous, which means they consume both plants and other animal meat. This includes berries, fruits, nuts, frogs, fish, crayfish, mussels, insects, turtles, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and even bird eggs. Raccoons usually have one litter of young each year, usually born in late spring or early summer. One litter can yield between three and five young, called kits. They can live for 12 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. They do not hibernate per se but do become inactive during severe winter weather.

Signs of a Raccoon Infestation

There are both visual and audible signs of identifying a raccoon infestation. Damage to a home’s shingles, insulation, lumber, electrical wiring, walls and other parts of the structure are telltale signs that a raccoon has taken up residence. Another indication of an infestation is the presence of scat, stains from urine, or nesting materials.

Additionally, raccoons often ransack and make a mess of garbage in cans while they search for food. If a homeowner notices trash randomly dispersed about the property, raccoons could be to blame. Pawprints may also be visible throughout the property.

In some cases, raccoons will destroy bird nests, kill poultry, and cause damage to gardens and agricultural crops, so any signs of these types of activities can also mean there is an infestation. Hearing loud thuds and noises from movement can also signify a homeowner may have raccoons in the home.

Dangers of Raccoons

While not all raccoons carry rabies, they are major hosts of the rabies virus throughout the United States, especially in the eastern states where their populations are continuously increasing. It is important to note that just because you see an active raccoon during the daytime, it does not necessarily signify it is rabid. That being said, there are key indicators that a raccoon may be infected with the rabies virus. Key symptoms of a rabid raccoon include apparent confusion and disorientation, wet and tangled looking hair, leg paralysis or difficulty walking, significant aggression, and production of loud, strange noises. Rabid raccoons are likely to foam at the mouth and have watery eyes.

In addition to the rabies virus, there are other harmful diseases that raccoons can carry and potentially transmit to humans; this includes roundworm, an intestinal parasite. Roundworm transmitted through unintentionally ingesting one of their microscopic eggs.

Raccoons also pose a severe threat to property. They will damage homes and other structures, especially when they try to enter through chimneys or attics that they target as potential den sites. Raccoons can even tear off shingles or boards to gain access to an attic or wall space as they have opposable thumbs.

How to Get Rid of Racoons

There are numerous precautions that homeowners may take to try to avoid a raccoon infestation from taking afoot. Firstly, raccoons can gain access into homes through holes, uncapped chimneys, broken vents, and other openings near/on the roof, which is why homeowners should regularly inspect these potential points of entry. Loose shingles and siding should also be repaired upon noticing. It is also helpful to have a licensed wildlife technician (if your builder hasn’t) install a chimney cap or mesh cover over exposed openings to prevent the animals from entering.

Homeowners should always store trash in sealed areas or containers, ideally in a locked shed, garage, or outbuilding. Raccoons are very cheeky and are easily able to open garbage cans; if they are left out in the open, it is imperative to have tightly fitting lids to avoid attention from hungry raccoons. Homeowners should also remove bird seed, feeders, and fountains, as they are sources of sustenance to raccoons. Likewise, brush, built-up debris, and leaves can serve as perfect hiding spots and dwellings for raccoons; it’s essential to rid the yard of these piles regularly. Also, consider storing firewood, which raccoons can use to build a shelter, at least 20 feet from the house during the colder seasons.

If you suspect an infestation and require additional information, contact a licensed pest professional to properly inspect the property and buildings. From there, they will formulate a plan to get rid of the raccoons. Please note that homeowners should not attempt to address an infestation themselves, especially since these mammals may be rabid or carrying raccoon roundworm and other diseases as mentioned above.

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