Readers’ wildlife photographs

June 13, 2015 • 8:45 am

Reader Christopher Moss, who lives on the north shore of Nova Scotia, sent snaps of two varieties of mammals:

I was looking through past years in LightRoom, and found a few to amuse you. First the Great Northern Snow Squirrel (that’s official – around this household anyway) enjoying his morning snack of cookies [JAC: There is no such species as the Great Northern Snow Squirrel]:

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Then I came across the raccoon family [Procyon lotor] that used to live under the back deck. Here are five of them stealinf choke cherries:

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We lived happily together and my son was foolish enough to tame them to hand feed:

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Making raccoons!

But when I was awoken one night by a terrible noise on my bedroom roof, relations cooled:

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Eventually, carpenter ants ate some important structures at the back of the house, and the deck had to go as part of the rebuilding. The descendants of these raccoons now live under the barn next door.

Here are some fun facts on raccoons from Wikipedia. First, their dexterity:

The most important sense for the raccoon is its sense of touch. The “hyper sensitive” front paws are protected by a thin horny layer which becomes pliable when wet. The five digits of the paws have no webbing between them, which is unusual for a carnivoran. Almost two-thirds of the area responsible for sensory perception in the raccoon’s cerebral cortex is specialized for the interpretation of tactile impulses, more than in any other studied animal. They are able to identify objects before touching them with vibrissae located above their sharp, nonretractable claws. The raccoon’s paws lack an opposable thumb; thus, it does not have the agility of the hands of primates. There is no observed negative effect on tactile perception when a raccoon stands in water below 10 °C (50 °F) for hours.

Note that the “lotor” in the species name Procyon lotor is Latin for “washer,” referring to their habit of dunking their food in water before eating it. It’s not clear why they do this.

Here are the vibrissae (“hand whiskers”):

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And their renowned intelligence (I’m not vouching for these studies as I’ve not read them):

Zoologist Clinton Hart Merriam described raccoons as “clever beasts”, and that “in certain directions their cunning surpasses that of the fox.” The animal’s intelligence gave rise to the epithet “sly coon”. Only a few studies have been undertaken to determine the mental abilities of raccoons, most of them based on the animal’s sense of touch. In a study by the ethologist H. B. Davis in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in fewer than 10 tries and had no problems repeating the action when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Davis concluded they understood the abstract principles of the locking mechanisms and their learning speed was equivalent to that of rhesus macaques. Studies in 1963, 1973, 1975 and 1992 concentrated on raccoon memory showed they can remember the solutions to tasks for up to three years. In a study by B. Pohl in 1992, raccoons were able to instantly differentiate between identical and different symbols three years after the short initial learning phase.Stanislas Dehaene reports in his book The Number Sense raccoons can distinguish boxes containing two or four grapes from those containing three.

Finally, baby albino raccoons (and the wild type) from Pinterest:

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19 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. OMG that squirrel looks so cute nomming cookies so daintily!!

    Racoons are very dextrous. They often open garbage bins or coolers left unattended.

  2. We seem to be having an uptick in rabies among raccoons in the region. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/rabies-spreading-in-new-brunswick-raccoons-1.3037070

    It’s unfortunate as I’ve known 3 or 4 families who had similar relationships with raccoons at their homes. One couple and their 3 kids in Bathurst had a small bench set aside and their raccoon family would come sit on it when company came over to grill on the deck and humans and raccoons would enjoy each others’ company.

    They haven’t seen them this year, but they worry about what to do if they make an appearance this year.

    1. I walked by a racoon a few weeks ago on the way to my car. It was in the wooded area and had walked out to the path I was walking on. It looked at me in a dazed state and I think it was probably ill. I had a fear that it would suddenly bite me one. Racoons are tough animals and the thought of one attacking me is a scary thought.

  3. If you want to know how intelligent raccoons are, go talk to a state of national park campground supervisor. Likewise if you want proof of how stupid humans are.
    Great photos, especially the sexytime one!

  4. Very nice photos. Raccoons are very smart and seem to live everywhere. The one thing they have not adapted to, unfortunately is the same for the deer and that is autos and roads.

    1. They may well evolve a sensible fear of cars. In fifty years of driving on unfenced Highland roads with sheep grazing either side, I have noticed a marked reduction in the tendency they used to have to run across the road in front of my car. Anecdotal, of course, but I wonder…

      1. Not here–at certain times of the year there are slews of them dead on the roads. I’ve hit a few myself, alas.

  5. I understand that they were imported to Japan as pets, where they naturally escaped, and are causing huge problems.

      1. Never heard of that…yikes. Anytime a new species is introduced to an island, bad things can happen.

  6. In the Germanic languages they’re sometimes known as wasbeer, vaskebjørn or variations thereof.

    I saw lots of them in Stanley Park. Pity I didn’t have a camera with me when one of them, expectantly, took place beside me on the bench.

  7. 1. Raccoons wet their paws for greater tactile sensitivity.
    2. They eat with their paws.

    Therefore, they are not washing their food but wetting their paws to make holding onto food easier.

  8. Those raccoons in the tree are like monkeys. I love the one poking its head out looking at the photographer. Thanks for the information, I didn’t know about “touch” being their most important sense.

    The squirrel looks like the one that Diana posted in the open thread. Chewbacca was riding it fighting off Nazis.

  9. I am told that a cruel trick to play upon a racoon that has access to water is to give it a sugar cube.

  10. That adorable Great Northern Snow Squirrel is a Red Squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. According to Wikipedia, “American red squirrels are also referred to as pine squirrels, North American red squirrels, boomers, chickarees, and fairydiddles.”

    Of those, the only one I recognize is chickaree. I think the “Great Northern Snow Squirrel” makes a nice addition to the list. 😀

  11. Very neat info about the raccoons’ tactile abilities!

    Every evening I play a little game with a local coon, called Defend the Feeders. S/he’s so fond of the suet s/he’ll come out way early, long before the woodpeckers and cardinals are done with the feeders. S/he’s so darn cute, though, that I really don’t begrudge too much the times that s/he wins.

    Despite their iconic, unduplicated shape, it’s surprisingly tough to see those albino kits as raccoons; I guess because their normal coat pattern is every bit as classic and unique.

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