We’ve had a periodic visitor who has been coming by more often lately. She – I’m only making an assumption, although Baldy Possum was indisputable a male – has had the moniker “Rachel Raccoon” since we first saw her and her sibling (who we nicknamed Raquel) last spring.
Raccoon siblings will often remain close and forage together even after reaching early adulthood, although eventually they tend to separate and forge their own lives. Raquel was the more openly curious of the two, while Rachel was the more shy one.
I don’t have pictures of them, as unlike the possums, they have only come by late at night. And while possums don’t even appear to notice the shine of a flashlight, raccoons are very sensitive toward anything that might signal they’ve been noticed, and will slip away fairly quickly.
Urban raccoons have a tendency to be more potentially destructive to dwellings than possums, due to their formidable problem-solving skills, persistence, and teeth and manipulative paws. Raccoon Willie shows one example (caution: some of the language is profane).
On the other hand, raccoons tend to have a greater tendency to be seen as “cute” than possums – particularly younger raccoons (kits). Raccoons exhibit playfulness and inherent curiosity that makes them do unusual things. Here’s one stealing a small rug through a dog-door.
There was a recent show on PBS on urban raccoons that noted how they had been imported into Japan and Germany due to their cuteness, which unfortunately didn’t last. Japan’s passion for baby raccoon pets was apparently sparked by a popular animated show featuring a raccoon named Rascal. Since kits become full-grown raccoons, and cute young male kits become more aggressive boar raccoons, many were released and have subsequently been very adaptable – apparently sowing destruction on centuries-old temples in which they have chosen to take up residence (after making various entry places and doing other modifications). They’ve done similar such home-remodeling in Germany – with Europe’s most dense population of the non-native raccoon – up to 400 per square mile – in the city of Kassel.
Raccoons have different eating habits than possums in an urban environment. Possums are foragers and even with a plentiful plate of food available they will usually only sample some, wander off for a few hours and return for a little more, and so on throughout the night. A raccoon will gorge itself whenever food is available, until either it can’t eat any more or the food is all gone (usually the latter).
I’ve enjoyed having the possums come by the backyard – although it’s been over a month since I’ve seen one now, after having almost nightly visits by up to three possums. Possums will spend a lot of time around a yard chasing cockroaches and eating slugs and grubs and other insects. Raccoons are roaming opportunists. The raccoons kept grabbing the edges of one or the other of the two birdbaths and flipping them over – even after I put a ground-level birdbath down in case they were looking for water. No, they suspected the water just above their heads must be somehow more interesting than the one at their feet. I had to put steel rebar supports around the birdbaths to halt the tipping. As heavy as a birdbath can be, the raccoons were also risking injury for their curiosity, and despite their intelligence and memory capabilities, they probably managed to do it four or five times altogether for whatever reason they had.
While possums are timid creatures – their open mouth hiss is their hope to make something scared of them so they can slip away – raccoons can be very good fighters and can certainly take on a dog, even a larger one, if cornered. That isn’t to say that a dog might not still win such a fight, but the raccoon will try to wrap around the dog’s head with claws and teeth sunk in to discourage it. Raccoons are also one the creatures that have a higher potential as a rabies vector species – while possums are considered to be almost immune to the virus.
Still, raccoons are fascinating animals for the way they adapt around humans, and seem able like dogs and a few other creatures to be aware of how humans may react to them. So it’s easy to find videos of raccoons begging for food from humans – a behavior you wouldn’t see many other wild animals adopt so easily. From what I understand about various mammals being “tamed” – skunks may actually be one of the ones that may take on expectations of what humans usually have, while most others – including raccoons, possums, ringtails (cacomistles), etc. will always exhibit a greater tendency toward their wild nature.