The Secret Lives of Raccoons
October 13, 2012 9:38 PM   Subscribe

"In an effort to outwit raccoons, are we pushing their brain development and perhaps even sending them down a new evolutionary path? Using high-definition, infrared cameras that turn pitch dark into daylight ... Raccoon Nation [alt link] achieves something that has never been done before: it intimately follows a family of urban raccoons over the course of six months as the young – under the watchful eye of their mother – grow, develop, and begin to find their way in the complex world of a big city." "Raccoon populations have grown twenty-fold in North American cities over the last seventy years. And as this documentary will show, city life is changing raccoons in remarkable ways." (45:08 min. video)
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (42 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
"This content is currently unavailable."
posted by ryanrs at 9:46 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is another link

I think this is the show that says that in 1977 the Japanese cartoon series Rascal the Raccoon led to thousands of raccoons being imported to Japan and sold as pets; when Japanese families realized that the real animal differed from his lovable cartoon counterpart, the raccoons were often released in the forest; now, raccoons are endemic in much of Japan, and rampantly destroy ancient temples. Japanese monks kill raccoons on sight.

Raccoons!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:49 PM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Raccoons are raccool.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:52 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If they discover fire we are so screwed.
posted by strixus at 9:54 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm more concerned about gunpowder...
posted by vorfeed at 9:56 PM on October 13, 2012


[Added the alternative link]
posted by taz at 10:00 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in college, there were legions of raccoons living around the dorms. They would come to raid the outdoor trashcans at night and had little fear of humans. If you were more than ten feet away they ignored you. Any closer and they hissed at you.

One night I was feeling frisky and decided to chase one. It took off running when I approached it, but I chased it up the external stairs and cornered it in front of someone's doorway. Realizing it had no escape, the raccoon used its emergency defense: it released a flood of putrid diarrhea. I backed away, overcome with pity and disgust, and let it be. I never bothered the raccoons again after that.

I'm guessing the person who lived in that room came to wonder how a pile of diarrhea ended up on their doorstep.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:06 PM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Raccoons are raccool.

At least until they dump your trash all down the street and you have to wake up at 5 AM to clean it up before pickup.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:11 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can live just fine with racoons as long as they don't start inflating their "pouches" (testicles) and flying about, al la Pom Poko
posted by edgeways at 10:12 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's raccoons all the way down
posted by ninjew at 10:13 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Japanese monks kill raccoons on sight.

Thanks. That made my night.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:15 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Japanese monks kill raccoons on sight.

The raccoons should wear little masks to conceal their identity.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:18 PM on October 13, 2012 [25 favorites]


We're not forcing their evolution any more than we have forced the evolution of tigers in India who are living nocturnal lives in order not to clash with humans or any more than we have forced the evolution of urban coyotes which are hunting cats let outdoors. Animals are capable of learning and adapting within their genomic abilities, and we're discovering that a lot more animals use tools of various sorts and adapt to their environments than Victorian "humans are supreme" mindsets ever imagined.

Evolution is a very very slow process, and outside of bacteria or insects which live much shorter lifespans than mammals, we rarely witness it on any meaningful level. Even on those levels, we're witnessing very primitive orders of evolutionary adaptation, nothing which implies anything like significant changes in brain development. Suggesting that we are witnessing such things speaks either to a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works, or wishful thinking, or a combination of those two and other delusional factors.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 PM on October 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I recently did a quarter of research at my university's research station. The school owns 400 acres around the labs that is designated as a biological preserve. This translates to the animals that frequented the campus having no fear of humans. Deer ignored you if you didn't touch them, foxes were slightly more flighty but weren't too concerned, otters might hiss but did their own thing (they lived under the men's bathroom; You could probably guess an otter's den smelled like rotting fish, but you'd be surprised how well it permeates a bathroom floor).

The raccoons stuck to their generally nocturnal schedule, so we didn't cross paths too much. One Friday night I foolishly attempted to keep up with the grad students at the weekly party and ended up passed out somewhere in the woods. When I woke up two raccoons were taking turns examining my face and then batting me with their paws.

I guess that was just a really rambly way of saying that raccoons are the cutest animals that have ever slapped me. I wish the species well in the future.
posted by edeezy at 10:32 PM on October 13, 2012 [38 favorites]


I used to work at an animal shelter, and the raccoons were the best. They are super curious.

Also, we had to use multiple fasteners on their cage doors, because they have nimble paws and are the living incarnations of Houdini.
posted by zippy at 10:40 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Life for raccoons would be simple... except for Cyril Sneer.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:53 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neat video. Pretty compelling and really fun to watch.

We had a raccoon that lived with us when I was a kid. My dad cut down a tree not knowing there was a family of coons in it, and only one little guy survived the event. My dad, being a softy at heart and feeling the guilt of his massacre, took the little bandit in. He lived quite comfortably with us for about 8 months, at which time he seemingly woke up from a nap, realized he was a raccoon in a house and surrounded by humans, and it was well past time to GTFO. He ate a box of cereal in about one minute--like a whirlwind, screamed at my sister and I, and heaved his fat little body through a screen in the window and scampered away.

I think he likely did well in the wild. Thrived, even. My sister named him "pudding."
posted by broadway bill at 10:54 PM on October 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Japanese monks kill raccoons on sight.

And vice-versa. Or did you somehow think the scarcity of Japanese monks in America was natural?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:05 PM on October 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Coyotes in downtown Chicago (they live along the riverbanks, mostly, and come out to scavenge in dumpsters at night) have learned to cross streets with the light (possibly with the aid of the beeping for the blind). So they don't get run over. So they can continue their invasion of your urban areas and displace you as apex predator, you soft squishy wussy thing.

Coyotes use traffic signals. Wild dogs in Moscow ride the Metro. Your thumbs are useless, puny humans. Canids are coopting your transit infrastructure.

(Raccoons, on the other hand, will co-opt your FACE. They're like the mafiosi of suburban critters. Get near their trash can and they will CUT you.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:31 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


On my grandfather's farm in Kansas, there was an empty cage. I asked about it and was told "Oh, that was where Uncle Boy used to keep his pet raccoon..."

I asked what happened to it and was told that it had squirreled away grains of corn from the cobs it was given and dropped them out of the bottom of its cage. It waited until a chicken wandered over to peck at them and then reached down through the holes in the mesh, grabbed the chicken and wrung its neck. End of raccoon as pet ensued soon thereafter.

I see them amble around in their loping gait in the wee hours up here in the summer, with seemingly nary a care, climbing the cherry trees when the cherries are ripe, digging for earthworms in the parking strips after a rain. They are willing to stand their ground if there's food at hand and give way very grudgingly.

I watched one pull earthworms out of a parking strip and it did not stop until I, walking by on the sidewalk, stopped, two feet away. It then reared up, calmly puffed out its fur, angry cat style, and stared at me until I backed away. It then went right back to grubbing for worms.
posted by y2karl at 11:37 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


at which time he seemingly woke up from a nap, realized he was a raccoon in a house and surrounded by humans, and it was well past time to GTFO

I've heard this about raccoons; that they make perfectly fine and loving pets up until they reach maturity, at which time their animal instincts suddenly kick in and they go from friendly pet to wild creature. Which is probably for the best, because a squad of trained raccoons could do some serious damage if they fell into the wrong hands.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:40 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't able to get either link to work, so I set about obtaining the video through other means; I don't feel particularly guilty about this, as they're giving it away free anyway.

This is part of the PBS Nature series, Season 3, Episode 7. You may find "S03E07" to be a useful search term on your specialized search engine of choice.
posted by Malor at 11:44 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think the Raccoon Legion has made it this far north, as I've never seen one or heard of anyone else who did. But then again, maybe they're just too smart to migrate into a place with five months of winter.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:47 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Suggesting that we are witnessing such things speaks either to a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works, or wishful thinking, or a combination of those two and other delusional factors.

Or they think that the once controversial, now much less so Baldwin effect may work, after all. In fact, brain development probably has the best chance of showing the Baldwin effect.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:01 AM on October 14, 2012


Radcoons
posted by nathancaswell at 5:06 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Evolution is a very very slow process, and outside of bacteria or insects which live much shorter lifespans than mammals, we rarely witness it on any meaningful level.

You should read The Beak of the Finch. Evolution visible on a year-to-year basis.

Evolution isn't so much slow as it is undirected. A random walk doesn't get far from it's starting point in a given amount of time. (Something like the sqrt(time), IIRC.) It's like brownian motion. Constantly in rapid motion, but randomly, so it cancels out. But if you direct it, you can get pretty far, pretty fast. Look at animal and plant breeding.
posted by DU at 5:08 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a NYT article a few years back about coyotes who had learned how to use the subway.
posted by goethean at 7:03 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is ridiculously relevant to my interests. Thanks.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:02 AM on October 14, 2012


Some friends bought a house a year ago that had long held a den of raccoon families in the attic. Raccoons are super-cute, but the roundworm parasite in the their feces is no joke. Our friends ended up having to drop a lot of money of hazardous waste removal and replacement of some of the inside ceiling.

My mom, who lives in a sub-division right next to a very, very busy road, kept koi in a small raised pond right outside her backdoor until something made a few stops by and ate them all. We never saw the thief but the configuration of the pond ruled out just about everything but a raccoon.

The line from this documentary about coyotes sticking to the edges of urban areas made me chuckle. Not so much where I live - they travel all through the city using both the dry stream beds and cross-town streets in the early morning and evening. I wonder if our urban coyote population helps to keep down our urban raccoon population. Maybe they like a change from house cat once in a while.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:26 AM on October 14, 2012


This is part of the PBS Nature series, Season 3, Episode 7. You may find "S03E07" to be a useful search term on your specialized search engine of choice.

I might be mistaken, but I believe it's the 30th season of Nature, not the third.

posted by box at 11:11 AM on October 14, 2012


Only raccoon I ever saw in the wild were 2 chasing each other up a tree, right outside my apartment window. Mind, this was 2 blocks just outside the city limits of Queens, NYC. So, yea. Oh, and it was 30 years ago.

I find that surprising, considering all the time I've been in vastly more natural territory for these beasts.
posted by Goofyy at 11:51 AM on October 14, 2012


Late to the party, but:

thousands of raccoons being imported to Japan . . . released in the forest; now, raccoons are endemic in much of Japan

An invasive species imported from somewhere else is nearly the exact opposite of an endemic species.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:22 PM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do racoons have thumbs? Dogs might learn to ride a metro and coyotes wait for beepers — but thumbs are when the rubber of progress meets the road.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:57 PM on October 14, 2012


Yes, they do have thumbs. Apparently they can't fold them the same way humans can, but they can still be used for grasping and such.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 PM on October 14, 2012


You know those metal dog leash fasteners with the thumb-operated slide latch? Raccoons can open those.
posted by zippy at 9:34 PM on October 14, 2012


I just went hiking in the hills north of Kyoto on the weekend, and every 100 meters or so there would be a small, black mound of tanuki "racoon dog" turds in the middle of the trail (I saw one pile of green monkey turds and lots of kamoshika antelope droppings, too.

I've never seen a North American racoon here in Japan. I imagine they live in the bigger cities, where there is less competition from native tanuki and other animals.

However, back in Canada racoons are everywhere, and they frighten me, if only because they might attack my kids sometime.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:47 PM on October 14, 2012


Evolution is a very very slow process, and outside of bacteria or insects which live much shorter lifespans than mammals, we rarely witness it on any meaningful level.

Probably not. Or, at least, it doesn't have to be slow. A rapid environmental change or new selective pressure does appear to cause rapid speciation.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:01 AM on October 15, 2012


I LOVE raccoons! Always have! They're scary and cute at the same time.
posted by désoeuvrée at 12:12 AM on October 15, 2012


We get a troup of raccoons through our tiny suburban backyard on a regular basis. We had to quit restocking our pond with goldfish because raccoons love sushi. They also send the dog up the proverbial tree, not so nice at 2 a.m. They're also not scared of anything. I'll go out onto the patio (which puts me within 15 to 20 feet or so of any raccoon) and the little bastards just look at me and wait for me to go back inside. Still, they're awfully cute and I'm glad they're around.
posted by deborah at 2:53 AM on October 15, 2012


When I was in college, there were legions of raccoons living around the dorms. They would come to raid the outdoor trashcans at night and had little fear of humans. If you were more than ten feet away they ignored you. Any closer and they hissed at you.

We had a dorm raccoon at U.C. Irvine that was friendly; I used to come home just before dawn after a club night or a rave and see him, and if I squatted down and clicked my tongue and called him, he'd walk right up to me and perch there with his front paws resting on my thigh and eat Tic-Tacs out of my hand. He was huge and fat, presumably from living mostly off of scavenged pizza, and had a pitiful, shredded tail, presumably from an encounter with a coyote. I'd have hated to have seen the poor coyote after that encounter.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2012


A raccoon of my own: Only a handful of all the animal species on earth can be tamed, but that doesn’t stop a homesick girl of 15 from trying
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on October 31, 2012


edgeways: I can live just fine with racoons as long as they don't start inflating their "pouches" (testicles) and flying about, al la Pom Poko

Those would be the tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dog (tanuki, previously). In a weird twist, between 1929 and 1955 about 9,100 raccoon dogs were imported into the former Soviet Union - mainly the European part. The tanuki became an invasive species, and appear to still be considered as such, as Sweden declared "open season" on racoon dogs in 2009 after 20 recorded sightings in neighboring Denmark.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:50 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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