The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 5, 2002



(Photo by Kay Fairweather)
Name: Common Raccoon or Procyon lotor ­ also many Native American names like "Magic One with Painted Face"

When and where found: In the back yard on School Street where it had been treed by my dogs, at about 9 p.m. on March 27, 2002 ­ the night before the full Worm Moon.

Distinguishing characteristics: About 30 inches long, 9 inches tall, with thick grey-brown fur, white eyebrows, black eye mask, white muzzle, and that famous banded tail. This one was as big as a very large fluffy domestic cat. Both forepaws and hind paws have five toes which are quite long, finger-like and of almost equal length. Raccoon tracks look like the imprint of miniature human hands, similar in form to muskrat tracks but larger.

Sounds: After putting the dogs in the house and returning with the camera and a flashlight, I discovered that the raccoon had moved, and I was able to locate it again by sound. It was mewing like a new-born kitten. It gave a few throaty open-jawed hisses to warn me against getting closer.

Behavior: Raccoons are mainly nocturnal; they are excellent tree climbers and good swimmers; adults are generally solitary except during mating. Many of the numerous Native American names for the raccoon refer to its dexterity with its forepaws like "Grasper," "One-very-clever-with-its-fingers," "Picks-up-things-with-hands," and "Pulls-out-crayfish-with-hands."

Food: Raccoons are classified in the order Carnivora. This doesn't mean that they eat only meat. They are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat frogs, slugs, snails, insects, worms, crayfish, salamanders, turtles and their eggs. Crayfish seem to be their favorite ­ mine too from that menu. On the veggie side, they prefer sweet corn, as many farmers and gardeners know, but also eat acorns and all kinds of berries. The urban raccoon, adept at getting into garbage cans, is less discriminating. Raccoons, especially those in captivity, will dip their food in water before eating it. The purpose is unclear except that it is not for washing, since they eat it anyway, clean or dirty.

References: Donald and Lillian Stokes, Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior; Peter Alden and Brian Cassie, National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England. (If you want just one field guide, this is the one. It covers wildflowers, trees, algae, very few mushrooms, ferns, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish ­ about 1,000 of the species you are most likely to see.)

Ideas and sightings are encouraged from everyone. You don't have to wade in marshes with a bucket trying to capture a peeper. Rik Pierce, who photographed the Barred Owl last week, just looked out his bedroom window. The only requirements are that the species exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. You can write the column yourself or tell me what you saw and I will write it. I can also help with drawings and photos. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito