Storm drains are like raccoon superhighways.
September 27, 2019 8:28 AM   Subscribe

"On a balmy morning in mid-August, Timothy Linder lifts the latch on a refrigerated trailer and opens both doors wide, releasing a wave of cold air heavy with the stink of fish guts. After hoisting himself up, Linder wriggles his hands into a pair of blue latex gloves, cuts into one of the stacks of cardboard boxes, and pulls out a plain brown block slightly larger than a miniature candy bar. Thankfully, this snack isn’t for people. It’s for the raccoons. Most people don’t know it, but the U.S. government has been distributing oral rabies vaccines targeted at raccoons since 1997 as part of a massive public and animal health initiative." Jason Bittel writes for National Geographic about raccoons and rabies.
posted by ChuraChura (52 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow:
Raccoon rabies used to be confined to Florida and the Deep South prior to the 1970s. In their book, Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy write, “But starting in 1977, more than thirty-five hundred raccoons were were legally trapped in Florida and shipped to private hunting clubs in Virginia, where they were released as prospective game.”

They brought raccoon rabies north with them.

So far, however, it’s stayed confined to the eastern part of the country. And for the last 20-some years, the U.S. has invested a lot of resources into making sure it stays that way.
posted by migurski at 8:58 AM on September 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


"more than thirty-five hundred raccoons were were legally trapped in Florida and shipped to private hunting clubs in Virginia, where they were released as prospective game"

Sure, I mean, what could possibly go wrong with this scheme to transport and release thirty-five hundred raccoons?
posted by mikeand1 at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2019 [15 favorites]


I grew up in a heavily wooded part of northern new jersey and we were terrified of the raccoons!! we knew there was a very high rate of rabies in the population, and they are just fearless w/r/t being around people. it was completely impossible to figure out a way to keep them out of our garbage. they are impressive animals! (I definitely wouldn't want to meet 3,500 of them in a dark alley. the most frightening animal encounter I've ever had in Yosemite was with a raccoon!)
posted by supermedusa at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I knew rabies was scary in a vague way, and then I had a bad encounter with a bat who got away and I had to look up the risk in more detail, and BOY is it a terrifying prospect. Not getting rabies is absolutely worth paying a ton out of pocket to get repeatedly stuck with needles all over your body.
posted by sallybrown at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


We were sitting around a fire in the back yard one night a few weeks ago when my wife suddenly screamed and ran into the house, abandoning her family and friends. Turns out there were three fat raccoons clambering over the fence onto the deck. They stared at us for a minute and waddled back the way they came. Maybe 15 minutes later we saw them at the opposite end of the yard, walking along the top of the fence.

When I was young, we used to see lots of raccoons and possums wandering around during the daytime hours, presumably rabid. Haven't seen that in a long time, and these raccoons seemed pretty healthy. I had no idea there was this sort of effort to vaccinate them, but I'm super happy about it.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:22 AM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I had no idea there was this sort of effort to vaccinate them, but I'm super happy about it.

word
posted by supermedusa at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't know. Sounds under control. We should definitely put an end to that program and put more money into drilling subsidies.

*Kidding! Let's keep the rabies at bay!
posted by amanda at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


"raccoons and possums wandering around during the daytime hours, presumably rabid"

Just a quick PSA (Possum Service Announcement): It is extremely unlikely that a possum would carry rabies.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2019 [27 favorites]


🎶because they’re the best🎶
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:51 AM on September 27, 2019 [15 favorites]


Well actually because they’re marsupials and their body temperature is a little different than placental mammals like raccoons and the rabies virus can’t infect them as easily as it can as the rest of us filthy placentals so a higher population of opossums helps act as a firebreak against rabies as it helps stop the spread.
...
🎶But also because they’re the best🎶
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:54 AM on September 27, 2019 [39 favorites]


That's great. Thanks...this must be relatively new because I remember reading years ago about how we (canada) dropped vaccine food from planes along the border to keep rabies from coming in from the U.S. where they weren't vaccinating. Hmm...looks like we're still doing it. Here's some mention. Anyway, hopefully with you vaccinating, too, we can really get it under control as much as possible.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2019


When we lived in Texas, we had a house with front windows that came down to maybe six inches from the floor, and one night one of my cats woke me up screaming like a banshee in the guest bedroom. I ran in and turned the lights on, and once my vision cleared I saw two tiny little hands pressed up against the window, and then three more pairs of tiny hands appeared, and I was about to die of horror when the baby raccoons pressed their noses to the glass. They were incredibly cute; I had to shut my cat out of the room before he hurt himself freaking out.

But still, I've had two friends have to get the full prophylactic series after being attacked while dog-walking on trash eve. Raccoons are terrifying.

(Possums are awesome.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:57 AM on September 27, 2019 [13 favorites]


How many special rodents change?
How many birds are chirping strange?
Where were you while we were eating trash?

Slowly climbing down the wall
Faster than a can'll roll
Where were you while we were eating trash?

Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
On a raccoon superhighway in the sky...

posted by me3dia at 10:22 AM on September 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Awww... That's cute that they're thinking about rabies! What about the baylisascaris? Anybody have a dog with a fondness for turds? Do you accept dog kisses from that dog? Do you live in an area where raccoons also live? Well, welcome to eyeworms!

(Raccoons frolicking during the day is not unusual, apparently; they don't have to be rabid. No need for a freakout because they're hanging out in the sunshine.)
posted by Don Pepino at 10:25 AM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


dont

get

rabies

really. just don't.
posted by lalochezia at 10:28 AM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Huh, I was kind of amazed to read that racoon rabies is confined to the East Coast and the Southeast U.S., because I've seen two rabid racoons in Minnesota. Both were in the "staggering around and uncoordinated" state. According to the DNR, they've only had four positive tests in the last twenty years. Don't know whether the one that I reported was one of the positives or not. Maybe they were both just Reagan racoons.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 10:35 AM on September 27, 2019


Today I learned: 🎶possums are the best🎶.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:38 AM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


(I definitely wouldn't want to meet 3,500 of them in a dark alley.)

I don't want to derail this conversation but I am fascinated by the idea that you might keep a list of things that are acceptable or not acceptable to meet 3,500 of in a dark alley. Can you share this list? Are there other lists with different numbers?
posted by mhoye at 11:05 AM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


If you find yourself with a raccoon latrine, the brain-eating worm egg cleanup is literally "burn it with fire, the bleach does nothing."

Both were in the "staggering around and uncoordinated" state.

Raccoons do like to get wasted on fermenting windfall fruit, so they could have been up to that?
posted by away for regrooving at 11:32 AM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


(Raccoons frolicking during the day is not unusual, apparently; they don't have to be rabid. No need for a freakout because they're hanging out in the sunshine.)

Yeah, just being out in the daytime means nothing. Raccoons that are sick are probably more likely to be out in the daytime than healthy raccoons, but that doesn't mean raccoons that are out in the daytime are more likely to be sick than healthy. And rabies isn't the only disease they can get. A raccoon that's staggering around could also have distemper.

When I was a wildlife biologist in an area with a lot of raccoons and a lot of people, we used to get a ton of calls from people who were scared of them. We were constantly saying, "Just because it doesn't run away as soon as it sees you, that doesn't mean it has no fear of people, and it certainly doesn't mean it's likely to attack you." People were always telling us about the 50 or 60 or 75 pound raccoons in their neighborhood. Once someone told me the raccoon they'd been seeing was "well over a hundred pounds." People are terrible at estimating the size of wild animals, especially animals they're scared of. You could never convince them their raccoon was unlikely to be more than 25 pounds. (Someone is probably reading this and thinking, "Well, the raccoons in my neighborhood are sure a lot bigger than 25 pounds." If you are that person, I am mentally rolling my eyes at you.)
posted by Redstart at 11:34 AM on September 27, 2019 [13 favorites]


I'm wondering if it's my imagination but it seemed like raccoons weren't as bold when I was young (old now). Could be that I mostly saw them in rural settings then, and more urban now. Wonder if the diff environments have anything to do with that or if there's been a shift in behavior since then. If it's not just my imagination.
posted by aleph at 11:44 AM on September 27, 2019


You could never convince them their raccoon was unlikely to be more than 25 pounds. (Someone is probably reading this and thinking, "Well, the raccoons in my neighborhood are sure a lot bigger than 25 pounds." If you are that person, I am mentally rolling my eyes at you.)

I have a fat, meaty cat. He's maybe 18 or 19 pounds these days. I have never seen a raccoon that I'd estimate as much bigger than him. The three we saw in the yard were definitely chonky bois, but I'd put them at absolutely no more than 15-18 pounds apiece, probably quite a bit smaller.

Still wouldn't want to tangle with their creepy, creepy washing-bear hands.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of urban racoons in our area. A friend of ours had a cat door in his kitchen, and one night he came downstairs (without his glasses) to get a drink of water. He looked over to the cat bowl and said "hi Max!" Then Max walked up behind him on the counter, and that's how they found out that the baby racoons could fit through the cat door. And that Max isn't allowed to make outdoor friends anymore.
posted by librarianamy at 11:47 AM on September 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


And that's why I've been seeing both commercial products and Maker DIY stuff on "smart" pet doors.
posted by aleph at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary? I can understand how attempting to chase one off mid-feast could end poorly or how an unexpected overnight indoor raccoon encounter could spark some lingering fear whatever the outcome, but surely neither is common?

I feel like I'm missing some crucial fact about the human/raccoon relationship. I've met several very friendly raccoons, they have commonly been fixtures in my various yards over the years, and I've come across them in the wild, so to speak, yet I've never felt threatened by any of them. Told off by them for being oblivious, sure, but never threatened in a way that made me feel scared or even at risk of minor injury.

Have they been lulling me into a false sense of security so that my flesh will one day be easier to harvest? Is it that dogs escalate things more than I understand? Are there other scenarios I haven't considered? What gives?
posted by wierdo at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Indeed, possums are so good that John Darnielle released a new ode unto them this year...

the Mountain Goats: Possum by Night

When the house lights all go dark
Shuffle on down to the park
Spent stars in the winter sky
Days of refuge in short supply

All you parasites climb abord
All you vagabonds praise the Lord
When the compost pile grows high
Climb to the top if I try

Long haul truckers still wide awake
Guard their pathways for Jesus' sake
All your garbage trucks to the curb
True sons of the living word

Try not to get stuck in the intake vent
Grow fat, and grow old, and go blind, and be content
All your pack dogs have your say
Let me just find my own way

Moon in the trees my guide
Walk with my jaw hinged wide
Once more unto the breach
Safe in the spots that the light can't reach
posted by kaibutsu at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary? I can understand how attempting to chase one off mid-feast could end poorly or how an unexpected overnight indoor raccoon encounter could spark some lingering fear whatever the outcome, but surely neither is common?

In my experience, racoon packs have varying levels of aggressiveness. We have a pretty mean pack in my neighborhood, which regularly hunts and murders cats at great volume in the middle of the night. They are also fearless and kinda terrifying.

I've also lived in places with pretty chill raccoon populations, who were mostly just kinda cute and happy to live in an entirely parallel city to the humans, China Mieville style.

And then I've stayed at campsites which are somewhere in between... where the racoons are non-terrifying, but completely relentless in their pursuit of food at all hours of the night, and have zero fear of the humans, but aren't particularly fighty.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:36 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The rest of us filthy placentals
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:41 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary?

The underlying assumption I took from my childhood was that you should assume any wild suburban raccoon is rabid, and the protocol for treating rabies is super-unpleasant, so extra caution is warranted.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Raccoons get canine distemper, which causes them to stagger in obvious distress, and then die.
posted by hexatron at 12:53 PM on September 27, 2019


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary?

Spoken like someone who has never opened their third story window on a hot city night and been greeted by a furious raccoon's worth of sharp pointy teeth.
posted by aspo at 1:05 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I really like raccoons because they are the most primate-like of North American mammals other than stupid humans. Dexterous little clever pawed bandits!
posted by ChuraChura at 1:30 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


mhoye the list definitely includes things I wouldn't want to meet even one of in a dark alley.
posted by supermedusa at 1:35 PM on September 27, 2019


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary?

None of us who worked in the wildlife office understood it either. We were sorely lacking in sympathy for the poor people who called us up with problems like "A raccoon walked through my yard" or "Squirrels are always hanging out in our trees looking at us" or "Weasels are gnawing on the decorative coral in my garden and also killing off all the toads in my neighborhood." We also heard from people who were scared of chipmunks, crows, and box turtles.

One thing that makes people really worried is when they see a wild animal and it just sits there looking at them instead of running away. They don't get that it's really normal for an animal to freeze and watch when it sees something potentially dangerous. I once talked to someone who was nervous about the rabbits in her yard because they would let people get really close without running away. People would usually describe that behavior by saying, "They show no fear" and they generally assumed it meant the animal might attack at any moment. Or "go for the throat" as people liked to say. Even when talking about animals like squirrels or possums.
posted by Redstart at 1:41 PM on September 27, 2019 [14 favorites]


I once talked to someone who was nervous about the rabbits in her yard because they would let people get really close without running away. People would usually describe that behavior by saying, "They show no fear" and they generally assumed it meant the animal might attack at any moment. Or "go for the throat" as people liked to say.

Maybe she was just a Monty Python fan, and knew better than to risk a vorpal bunny.
posted by axiom at 2:23 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


Gilgamesh’s Chauffeur — what time of the year was it? We’ve seen coons and birds getting sloshed on fermented fruit from the ground or the sangria-ready bits still on the trees. Could they have been drunk?
posted by Silvery Fish at 3:39 PM on September 27, 2019


I didn't realize there were people who were scared of raccoons, because they are so damn cute and mischievous.

I mean yeah, when a pack goes in for a commando strike on your camping supplies, or they crawl in your window at night, ok. But I don't attribute that to malice they're just slightly too clever for their own good!

Also they really do like getting drunk as a skunk.
posted by bradbane at 4:07 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Animals that unnerve me in the wild, from "cute at a distance" to "this vehicle isn't secure enough."
Frogs, turtles, obviously nonpoisonous snakes.
Bunnies and jackrabbits, squirrels.
Feral cats, foxes, lone dogs.
Deer, elk.
Beavers, otters.
Raccoons, possums, armadillos.
Snakes which may be or definitely are poisonous.
Dog packs, coyotes, a litter of wild piglets, bobcats.
Cattle.
Panthers, bears, large wild hogs (they will attack).

Spiders fall somewhere on the lines of "cute, but stay away" and "get the bug spray and a flyswatter."
Birds are a joy to behold. I was buzzed by a hummingbird near the Rose of Sharon bush the other day. Sweet.
posted by TrishaU at 4:43 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


We once rolled into a state park campground in South Carolina, near the Georgia border, in a camper van with a pop-up top some years ago. It was a large campground but apparently the off -season as there was nobody else there but 500 hungry raccoons. Okay maybe 50. Maybe 25. They were all over us. GIVE US ALL YOUR FOOD NOW. Seriously, we kept the doors locked, we peed in a bucket that night, and as they started to climb on the van we decided not to pop the top.

I had always had a good relationship with raccoons until until that night. They were smart and cute and they washed their little hands before they ate. They were the hero of Rascal.These guys were very aggressive. And hungry. And they blamed us for their condition.
posted by zenzenobia at 5:47 PM on September 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Here in San Francisco, I and my four and a half year old friend go for walks a few times a week around a lake in the western end of Golden Gate Park. Today around two pm we only saw nine raccoons. A couple of days ago it was twelve. As to seeing them, they were maybe six to ten feet away. They have been closer but not for long as we quickly move away. They are relentless beggars because a number of idiots like to feed them. They are out during the day because these idiots are out during the day. Adaptive little bastards. Cute though.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:01 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Serious question:

Would you rather fight 3500 raccoons without rabies or one racoon with 3500 rabies?
posted by loquacious at 7:26 PM on September 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Sometimes the government does really great important stuff, and I would AAA++++ vote for more such stuff.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 PM on September 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


Anything that keeps rabies at bay is a good thing.

I just came in to say that there are few things as amazing as raccoon hands. My folks rescued two baby raccoons many decades ago after a tornado killed their mom, so I grew up hanging out with Hans and Fritz. Recently I’ve been recalling their hands, with their long, dextrous fingers and soft, smooth palms, and the way they felt when you squeezed them (and the raccoon squeezed back). Nothing quite like holding a raccoon in your arms, either—they’re mostly fur and smell pleasantly wild. I miss those guys and always feel a pang when I see raccoons.

Ours were quite cuddly, though Fritzie once bit my sister when she tried to tie a bow on his tail.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:27 AM on September 28, 2019 [13 favorites]


In undergrad at a small private liberal arts college in Iowa, I had a friend who was from Japan - the first time he saw a possum he got super duper excited "is that a monkey? is that a monkey?"

Not sure which species figured it out first, but both crows and raccoons totally dig chafer beetle larvae around here and literally dig up entire front yards/ sidewalk turf for them. I *think* it was raccoons in East Van, then the crows picked it up and spread it, then raccoons in other neighbourhoods picked it up from the crows.

I'm not too concerned about raccoon teeth - their claws concern me a lot more.

Their "trash panda" nomer is apt; they're only less of a hazard to garbage than bears only because they lack the brute strength, but they make up a lot of that with their claws, intelligence, and perseverance.

At the University of British Columbia, even more adaptable than the rats and mice are the squirrels. They'll team up - one drops into a trash can and retrieve food, the other stays at the rim to give them a paw out of the trash can.
posted by porpoise at 5:12 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was house and cat-sitting for a neighbor and was in the kitchen after having set out some dry food for the cat and was getting the wet food ready. Their kitty was wrapping itself around my feet and purring when suddenly the cat door gave a little squeak and I looked over to see a tiny, black hand reaching through the cat door and grabbing a handful of dry cat food from where I had set the bowl. My heart was racing and I internally screamed in my head, 'ELVES!!!??!!!' The cat started to hiss and arch and then I realized it was a clever raccoon. And I was a dummy for putting the cat food next to the cat door.
posted by amanda at 5:31 PM on September 28, 2019


"I'm wondering if it's my imagination but it seemed like raccoons weren't as bold when I was young (old now). Could be that I mostly saw them in rural settings then, and more urban now."

My dad often comments on the same thing -- crows too -- and he thinks it's because suburban raccoons and crows don't get shot and so don't know they're meant to be scared of humans. But every raccoon and crow that was still alive near the farm where he grew up had a healthy wariness of humans.

"Raccoons, possums, armadillos.
Snakes which may be or definitely are poisonous.
Dog packs, coyotes, a litter of wild piglets, bobcats."


I'm actually more bothered by raccoons than coyotes, because coyotes around here are solitary and if you see one it's just off on an errand somewhere and doesn't want to get near you or interact with you. (I mean, stay well back, especially if you have a small pet with you, but it's not going to come over and hassle you.) Raccoons, OTOH, will fight you for your trash.

(Also I know possums aren't going to hurt me but possums are FUCKING TERRIFYING when you startle one in the night and it hisses at you with all its tiny teeth. We had one that was living near/on/in our garage at one point when it had babies and driving after dark was a crapshoot, about 30% of the time you'd startle the possum coming or going and see ALL ITS INFINITE TEETH while it hissed at you like a terrifying gigantic rat with several miniature gigantic rats clinging to its back.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:53 PM on September 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


Raccoons are so sneaky around here that my husband, an otherwise intelligent man, was convinced we didn't have any. Despite my protestations, he used a live animal trap to try to retrieve our runaway cat, and netted... one very angry raccoon.

Now my husband properly secures the garbage.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:06 AM on September 29, 2019


I moved from the Pacific Northwest (where raccoons are a real pest and rabies exists) eventually to the UK (where rabies has been abolished and we have no raccoons). What we do have here are foxes and badgers. Foxes are probably the closest analogue to raccoons we have in terms of cleverness and trash-interference potential. They don't get on with badgers, though, who are ornery feckers if given a chance to have a scratch at you, so lately we've seen them move in more in cities while the badgers stay out in the countryside.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2019


My dad’s family had raccoons as pets growing up for a little while - this was on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the 60s. It went about as well as you’d expect; my dad and his siblings have a ton of stories about the raccoons causing all sorts of chaos in their house (and a neighbor’s houses when they escaped at one point - apparently they went down the neighbor’s chimney). If I remember correctly eventually the raccoons eventually got taken away by animal control. One of their raccoons did end up in the My Side of the Mountain movie though!
posted by insectosaurus at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2019


"I moved from the Pacific Northwest (where raccoons are a real pest and rabies exists) "

I got concerned about this, since I bumped into the neighborhood raccoons on trash day last week in my new house, so I did some investigating and as far as I can tell, Washington state -- at least -- does not have rabid raccoons as a problem to deal with. So, there's that for good news.
posted by ChrisR at 10:47 PM on September 29, 2019


I just came in to say that there are few things as amazing as raccoon hands

Excuse me the technical term is holdy paws
posted by quiet coyote at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why (non-rabid) raccoons are scary?

In my case, it's because so many of the damned things turned out to be rabid, and rabies is a big deal. I don't know what it was about my exact childhood residence (rural CT north of Hartford), but I had two encounters with rabid raccoons in the mid-late 90's, and I'm one degree of separation from two more. My grandmother surprised one coming around the corner of the house in the middle of the day about 25 years ago, and needed a skin graft because of how badly that thing mauled her. A couple of years earlier, we had a pair of them stumbling around the back yard, which to this day is the only time I've seen my father get out the literal big guns. A .30-06 round put a hole in one of those critters that was big enough to see daylight through, and it was not enough to stop it from advancing. They're big, they're fast, they're mean as hell if you find an angry or sick one (and there's no way to tell which kind you've chanced upon until it's too late), and those claws can inflict major damage in no time flat. Y'all can have your trash pandas--I've had to deal with rabies prophylaxis as an adult, and I'm not getting anywhere near one of those things.
posted by Mayor West at 8:48 AM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


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