Raccoons in Massachusetts
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are found throughout Massachusetts.
They are extremely adaptable thriving in a wide variety of habitat types
including rural, suburban and even urban
neighborhoods. Raccoons are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is most abundant and readily available, including human discards, garbage or pet food.
The raccoon is one of the most easily recognizable furbearers; well known for its black face mask outlined in white and a bushy tail with alternating black and gray rings. The front and hind paws of raccoons each have 5 digits. The very dexterous front paws are used to grasp and manipulate food items. Raccoons can vary in weight from 12 - 36 pounds, with some exceptionally large raccoons reaching even heavier weights. They range in length from 23 - 38 inches including a 7 - 16 inch tail.
The mating season of raccoons generally runs from January to March, although later mating is possible. Raccoons have a 63 day gestation period and will give birth to a litter of 3 - 7 cubs (average 4) in April or May. Cubs are weaned at approximately 70 days and are independent of their mother after 20 weeks. They become more independent by late fall, but continue to den with the family group, especially during the severe winter months. Cubs disperse in early spring of the following year at the age of 9 - 10 months.
Raccoons are mostly crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night), however they may be active during the day if food is available. Daytime activity does not mean that the raccoon is diseased. Raccoons occupy a variety of habitat types from agricultural to forested areas and can also live in urban and suburban neighborhoods. Raccoons will often den in tree cavities, abandoned underground burrows, barns, chimneys, attics, or Raccoon other structures. It is important to close off any openings into sheds, attics or under decks to ensure that raccoons cannot establish a den there.
Raccoons are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is easiest to find and most readily available, however when food sources are most abundant, raccoons may be somewhat selective. They will eat plant material such as berries, nuts and seeds. They will also feed on crayfish, crabs, freshwater turtles and their eggs, injured waterfowl, muskrat kits, young birds and less frequently, bird eggs. Raccoons are probably best known for raiding garbage cans, chicken coops, and consuming agricultural crops such as corn and pet food left outdoors.
Rabies & Distemper
Raccoon rabies first appeared in Massachusetts in 1992 and raccoons are the primary (but not the only) carriers for this disease. Rabies is a neurological disorder that can cause raccoons to act lethargic, move in an uncoordinated manner, or exhibit unprovoked aggressive behavior. Rabies can infect most mammals including humans and common domestic pets. If there is any direct contact between a raccoon and a person or a pet, contact the Department of Public Health or your town Board of Health for guidance. More information on rabies.
Canine distemper virus, can cause symptoms very similar to rabies. Canine distemper virus is not transmissible to humans and most domestic dogs are vaccinated against this virus, however, any raccoon that comes into contact with humans or domestic animals should be treated as a potentially rabid animal.
Remember that seeing a raccoon during daytime hours is not an indicator of disease.
Raccoons are primary carriers of raccoon roundworm. The roundworm is
shed in raccoon feces.Raccoon roundworm rarely has negative effects
on raccoons but it can be very dangerous when it infects other mammals,
such as rabbits or humans. A person
can become infected by placing objects that are contaminated with raccoon feces in his or her mouth. Because of this, it is important to keep sandboxes covered, as raccoons (and neighborhood cats) may use them as latrine sites. Also, when cleaning an area that was formerly occupied by raccoons (such as sheds or barns), wear gloves and a face mask to avoid ingestion of the raccoon roundworm eggs. For more information on raccoon roundworm, visit the Centers for Disease Control web page.
The following tips will explain how people can live with and enjoy wildlife ,including raccoons, responsibly. Remember that your behavior affects the behavior of wildlife.
Secure your garbage and compost! Raccoons will happily raid garbage cans and compost heaps. Make sure garbage is kept in tightly closed containers. Take out trash on the morning of pick-up instead of the night before. Keep compost in secure vented containers to prevent access to this attractive food source. These practices prevent artificial feeding of raccoons and also makes your area less attractive to them.
Do not feed or try to touch raccoons! Raccoons are wild animals and feeding, whether directly or indirectly, may cause them to lose their fear of people. Raccoons which become habituated (used to people) may approach other humans expecting food or attention. This is not safe for animals or people.
Feed pets indoors! Do not put pet food outdoors under any circumstances. Pet food left outdoors inadvertently feeds a variety of wildlife including raccoons. Causing raccoons to congregate at a feeder can also facilitate the spread of disease from raccoons to other wildlife or domestic animals.
Eliminate potential denning areas! Close off openings under porches and buildings. Seal any openings that lead into sheds or attics and cap off chimneys.
Share this information with your neighbors! Your best efforts
will be futile if neighbors are providing raccoons with food and shelter.
Raccoons are an important natural resource in Massachusetts. They are classified as a furbearer species, for which an established regulated trapping season and management program exists.
If you are experiencing problems with, or have other questions regarding raccoons, contact the nearest MassWildlife District office.