A raccoon is a mammal in the genus Procyon; P. lotor, the common raccoon, is probably the best known animal in the genus. These animals are native to North America, and their range extends partially into Central America as well. Because they are extremely intelligent and highly adaptable, racoons are familiar animals to many people in North America, even those living in cities, as they are quite capable of surviving in the urban environment.
The name comes from the Virginia Algonquin language. Early English visitors to North America were familiar with the animals by 1609, thanks to their useful fur as well as their potentially edible flesh. Captain John Smith is generally credited with introducing the animal to curious Europeans, writing in a confused description that they were like badgers, only they climbed trees.
Raccoons tend to be around double the size of a house cat, with mousy gray bodies and bushy ringed trails. Most distinctively, they have black facial markings that look sort of like a bandit's mask. The animals have extremely agile front feet that many people liken to hands, and muscular back legs that help them climb trees, swim, and run rapidly after prey.
As a general rule, these animals are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of foods including nuts, grasses, seeds, fish, small animals, and scavenged material. Their agile front feet allow them to catch fish by hand, and they can also pry the lids from garbage cans, open doors, and manipulate other human-constructed objects to get at desirable foods.
The raccoon is primarily a solitary animal, although they do get together in the late winter to mate, with litters being born in the spring. Mothers will generally look after their young for a few months before encouraging them to seek their fortunes elsewhere, while fathers are not involved in child rearing.
These mammals are excellent problem-solvers, which can be a problem for people who might try to prevent raccoons from accessing things. In cities, they wreak havoc on garbage cans and dumpsters, and they have also been known to get into cars and homes in their quests for food. For gardeners and farmers, they can be extremely annoying, as they will kill small farm animals like chickens and ducks, and tear up gardens in search of delicacies.
In some areas, people keep raccoons as pets, typically purchasing them from breeders or people who specialize in taming young ones for sale. This practice is restricted in some regions, due to concerns about rabies, a disease that this animals frequently carry.