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Raccoons and Relatives (Procyonidae)

Raccoons and relatives

(Procyonidae)

Class Mammalia

Order Carnivora

Family Procyonidae


Thumbnail description
Medium-sized carnivores with dexterous digits and long tails, most with dark bands

Size
Body 1.0–2.5 ft (30–70 cm); tail 0.8–2.0 ft (20–70 cm); mass 2–40 lb (0.8–18 kg)

Number of genera, species
7 genera; 16 species

Habitat
Forests, farmland, and cities

Conservation status
Endangered: 5 species and 1 subspecies; Lower Risk/Near Threatened: 3 species; Data Deficient: 1 species

Distribution
South and Central America, North America, and Asia

Evolution and systematics

Procyonids evolved in the tropical environments of South and Central America. Their morphology and habits reveal numerous adaptations for warm climates including naked soles, long digits, diet relying heavily on fruits and berries, and tree climbing skills. Several aspects of their phylogeny (origin) remain unresolved. First, the position of the red panda, Ailurus fulgens, with the Procyonidae (but the giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca in the Ursidae) is not universally accepted. In the past, the red panda has been considered under a separate family Ailuridae with the giant panda. Second, the number of species of raccoons (genus Procyon) seems to vary as many previously recognized island species such as Bahaman raccoon (Procyon maynardi), Guadeloupe raccoon (Procyon minor), and the extinct Barbados raccoon (Procyon gloveralleni) have recently been reconsidered variants of the northern raccoon (Procyon lotor). Similarly, five species of olingos (genus Bassaricyon) are currently recognized, but are probably variants (subspecies) of the same species.

Physical characteristics

Procyonidae have a rounded head and ears, short snouts (genus Potos) or long snouts (generas Nasua and Procyon), most have long banded tails except kinkajous (Potos flavus), which have unbanded tails. Pelage varies from pale brown in Bassariscus to dark red in Ailurus, and is variable from yellowish to silver, brown, or even black in some color morphs of Procyon lotor. Facial markings often occur, and are most pronounced in raccoons and red pandas, yet absent in kinkajous. Limbs have five digits, with short, recurved claws. Mass ranges from 2 lbs (1 kg) in Bassariscus to close to 40 lbs (18 kg) in Procyon lotor. Males are slightly larger than females, and have a baculum (penis).

Distribution

Procyonids (except the red panda) occur throughout Central American and the northern half of South America, but the northern raccoon occurs in North America, and now in Germany following introductions. Red pandas occur in the

temperate forests of the Himalayas from Nepal through to provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan in China.

Habitat

Procyonidae are extremely adaptable and occur in all habitats except possibly desertic habitats. Most species probably occur in tropical forests except for the northern raccoon that inhabits farmland, mixed forests and urban areas throughout the United States and Canada. Red pandas inhabit bamboo forests of Asia.

Behavior

With the exception of the coatis, the procyonids are nocturnal species. All species are capable climbers. Some species

such as Bassariscus are solitary, others such as Procyon have variable degrees of sociality, and Nasua is highly gregarious. Solitary species such as Bassariscus or Nasua do not defend territories, but home ranges typically overlap more inter-sexually than intra-sexually. Only red pandas are truly territorial. Some species such as Potos flavus and Ailurus fulgens scent mark.

Feeding ecology and diet

Procyonidae are omnivorous. Some specialization occurs from the ring-tailed cats (mostly carnivores) to kinkajous (frugivore) or red pandas (mostly herbivore), but all species consume plant or animal matter, depending on season or availability.

Reproductive biology

Most species are promiscuous and breed in the spring or throughout the year in southern latitudes. Females bear young once a year after a gestation period of 60–118 days. Males do not provide care for the young.

Conservation status

Twelve species plus one subspecies are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, listing of two raccoons as Endangered (Procyon minor, Procyon maynardi) and one as Extinct (Procyon gloveralleni) may be invalid as they are forms of the northern raccoon. Among extant species, five are Endangered (Ailurus fulgens, Procyon pygmaeus, Procyon insularis, Bassaricyon lasius, and Bassaricyon pauli), three are listed as Near Threatened (Bassaricyon beddardi, Bassaricyon gabbii, and Bassariscus sumichrasti), and one species as Data Deficient (Nasuella olivacea). The red panda is currently endangered because

of deforestation, killing for its pelt, illegal trade of live animals, and predation by domestic dogs. Estimates suggest that less than 2,500 animals remain. One species of raccoon,

the Cozumel Island raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus) is threatened by urbanization and persecution as pests by orchard owners.

Significance to humans

Procyonids are hunted for their meat and fur, or killed as pests. The northern raccoon has the greatest importance to humans, either as a furbearer, for meat, as a carrier of rabies, or as a pest. Other procyonids such as coatis or kinkajous may also be harvested for their meat or fur, although none to the extent of the northern raccoon.

Species accounts

List of Species

Northern raccoon
Kinkajou
White-nosed coati
Ringtail
Red panda

Northern raccoon

Procyon lotor

subfamily

Procyoninae

taxonomy

Ursus lotor (Linnaeus, 1758), Americae maritimis (Pennsylvania).

other common names

English: Raccoon, coon; French: Raton laveur; German: Waschbär; Spanish: Mapache.

physical characteristics

Body length 18–25 in (50–65 cm), tail 8–12 in (20–30 cm), mass 10–35 lb (4–16 kg). Large rounded head, round ears, black mask across face, long digits and naked feet, long, thick fur, and long tail with numerous concentric dark bands.

distribution

Southern Panama north to the fringe of the boreal forests in Canada. Introduced into Russia and Germany.

habitat

Raccoons thrive in a variety of habitats including forests to mixed forests, prairies, and urban areas.

behavior

Nocturnal, raccoons spend the day sheltered in abandoned houses, barns, culverts, hollow trees, brush piles, or dens of other animals. Home ranges vary according to food abundance, and range from 12 to 6,000 acres (0.5–25 km2). Densities range

from one to 600 individuals per mi2 (0.5–300 per km2), and highest densities occur in urban areas. In northern environments, raccoons accumulate large amounts of fat during late summer and autumn in preparation for an extended period of sleep (up to six months) during winter. Longevity up to 17 years in captivity, but rarely reaches five years in the wild. Main predators are coyotes, bobcats, and alligators.

feeding ecology and diet

Raccoons are opportunistic and consume whatever foods they encounter. Most often, diet consists of fruits, berries, cereal grains, hard mast, crayfish, frogs, and bird eggs. Although historically believed to wash their food before eating, this habit is a myth and simply the result of raccoons often searching for and handling aquatic food with their dexterous forepaws.

reproductive biology

Promiscuous. Mating in February or March. Gestation 63 days, litter size is one to seven. Males do not provide care for the young.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

The raccoon is important to humans for meat, fur, as a pest and as a carrier of rabies. The meat is consumed mostly in southern United States and Central America. The raccoon is also an important furbearer across the United States and Canada. Raccoons are sometimes killed as pests, especially for damage caused to crops (corn), for consuming and spreading garbage in urban areas, or for perceived threats to domestic animals (chicken) or wild game birds, especially ducks. In the eastern United States, the raccoon is of significant concern as a carrier of rabies. The ability of raccoons to thrive in the presence of humans is a major factor leading to its importance as a pest: currently, the highest densities of raccoons anywhere are found in large cities such as Chicago (USA), Cincinnati (USA), and Toronto (Canada).


Kinkajou

Potos flavus

subfamily

Potosinae

taxonomy

Lemur flavus (Schreber, 1774), Surinam.

other common names

English: Honey bear; French: Kinkajou; German: Wickelbär; Spanish: Marta.

physical characteristics

Body length 16–30 in (40–75 cm), tail 16–24 in (40–60 cm), mass 3–10 lb (1.4–4.6 kg). Tawny olive pelage with large rounded head and ears, short snout, prehensile tail, and large protruding eyes.

distribution

Southeast Mexico through Central America into Brazil.

habitat

Southern tropical forests.

behavior

Solitary and arboreal, kinkajous rest in hollow trees during the day. They scent mark, possibly to communicate or advertise sexual status. Kinkajous are not territorial, and animals may aggregate near good food sources. Density may reach 30–75/mi2 (12–30/km2). Longevity may reach 23 years in captivity.

feeding ecology and diet

Fruits, honey, insects, bird eggs and nestlings, and rarely small mammals.

reproductive biology

Promiscuous. Breeding throughout the year. Gestation 112–118 days, litter size typically one, but rarely two.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

May be eaten in some localities.


White-nosed coati

Nasua narica

subfamily

Procyoninae

taxonomy

Viverra narica (Linnaeus, 1766), America (Vera Cruz).

other common names

English: Coatimundi; French: Coati à nez blanc; German: Nasenbär; Spanish: Tejón.

physical characteristics

Body length 16–30 in (40–67 cm), tail 13–18 in (32–69 cm), mass 6–13 lb (3–6 kg). Reddish brown pelage above and yellow to dark brown below. White muzzle, chin and throat. Movable, trunk-like snout, and long, banded tail.

distribution

Southwestern United States south to Panama.

habitat

Mostly in wooded areas.

behavior

Diurnal and highly gregarious. Females with young often form large bands of up to 25 individuals, whereas males are mostly solitary. Gregariousness of females with young likely is an adaptation to reduce predation of young by males or other predators. Animals usually carry the tail erect, except for the curled tip. Longevity up to 14 years. Predators include big cats and large snakes.

feeding ecology and diet

Invertebrates, fruits, lizards, and small rodents. Individuals do not share or cache food.

reproductive biology

Promiscuous. Gestation 74 days, litter size is one to six.

conservation status

One subspecies, sometimes considered a separate species, the Cozumel Island coati (N. n. nelsoni) is Endangered.

significance to humans

Coatis are hunted for their meat and fur.


Ringtail

Bassariscus astutus

subfamily

Procyoninae

taxonomy

Bassaris astuta (Lichtenstein, 1830), Mexico City.

other common names

English: Ring-tailed cat, cacomistle, miner's cat; German: Nordamerikanisches Katzenfrett; Spanish: Mico de noche.

physical characteristics

The smallest procyonid. Body length 12–16 in (30–42 cm), tail 12–18 in (30–45 cm), mass 1.8–3.0 lb (800–1400 g). Long banded tail, flat head, large ears, and long, tapered snout.

distribution

Southern Oregon, southwest United States into Mexico (including Baja California) and south to Veracruz and Oaxaca.

habitat

Rocky, semi-desertic areas, often near water.

behavior

Nocturnal, it shelters in rock crevices during the day. Agile climber.

feeding ecology and diet

Rodents, insects, birds and bird eggs, reptiles, fruits, vegetable matter.

reproductive biology

Promiscuous. Gestation is 60 days, litter size 2–4, parturition from March to June.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Ringtails are harvested as furbearers in southern United States.


Red panda

Ailurus fulgens

subfamily

Ailurinae

taxonomy

Ailurus fulgens F. G. Cuvier, 1825, East Indies.

other common names

English: Lesser panda; French: Petit panda; German: Kleiner Panda, Katzenbär; Spanish: Panda rojo.

physical characteristics

Body length 20–24 in (50–60 cm), tail 12–20 in (30–50 cm), mass 6.5–11 lb (3–5 kg). Overall pelage reddish, with well furred and banded tail. Large round ears with white fringe, two black stripes from the eyes down on the cheeks.

distribution

Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and south central China, possibly also in Tibet and Assam.

habitat

Occupies bamboo forests.

behavior

Mostly nocturnal. Capable climber but forages mostly on the ground. Red pandas are territorial, and territorial boundaries are

scent marked. Territories occupy 0.4–1.5 mi2 (1–3.5 km2). Density is roughly one animal/mi2 (0.4/km2).

feeding ecology and diet

Bamboo sprouts, grasses, roots, fruits, acorns, and rarely animal prey.

reproductive biology

Promiscuous. Mating occurs in July and August. Gestation lasts 134 days, litter size is one to four.

conservation status

Endangered.

significance to humans

Red pandas are not harvested for their fur or meat, and are popular zoo animals. They are threatened by deforestation and increased agriculture.

Common name / Scientific name / Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Crab-eating raccoon Procyon cancrivorus Spanish: Mapache cangrejeroUpperparts are brown or grayish in color. Underparts are lighter. Mask of black on eyes and rings on tail. Very short hair, large. Head and body length 21.7–29.9 in (55–76 cm), tail length 3.9–5.9 in (10–15 in).Marshy and jungle areas of Central and South America. Solitary animal, active during evening and at night.Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.Frogs, toads, crabs, shrimp, turtle eggs, fruits, and seeds.Not listed by IUCN
Bahaman raccoon Procyon maynardi Spanish: Mapache de las BahamasColoration is gray to black, 5 to 10 rings on well-furred tail. Head and body length 16.3– 23.6 in (41.5–60 cm), tail length 7.9–15.9 in (20–40.5 cm). Males generally larger than females.Timbered and brushy areas, usually near water. More nocturnal than diurnal. Build dens for shelter and do not hibernate.New Providence Island, Bahamas.Crayfish, crabs, other arthropods, frogs, fish nuts, seeds, acorns, and berries.Endangered
Cozumel Island raccoon Procyon pygmaeus Spanish: Mapache pigmeoColoration is gray to black, 5 to 10 rings on well-furred tail. Head and body length 16.3– 23.6 in (41.5–60 cm), tail length 7.9–15.9 in (20–40.5 cm). Males generally larger than females.Timbered and brushy areas, usually near water. More nocturnal than diurnal. Build dens for shelter and do not hibernate.Cozumel Island off north-eastern Yucatán, Mexico.Crayfish, crabs, other arthropods, frogs, fish nuts, seeds, acorns, and berries.Endangered
Common name / Scientific name / Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Guadeloupe raccoon Procyon minor Spanish: Mapache de GuadalupeColoration is gray to black, 5 to 10 rings on well-furred tail. Head and body length 16.3–23.6 in (41.5–60 cm), tail length 7.9–15.9 in (20–40.5 cm). Males generally larger than females.Timbered and brushy areas, usually near water. More nocturnal than diurnal. Build dens for shelter and do not hibernate.Guadeloupe Island, Lesser Antilles.Crayfish, crabs, other arthropods, frogs, fish, nuts, seeds, acorns, and berries.Endangered
Cozumel Island coati Nasua nelsoniShort, fairly soft hair. Coloration is generally reddish brown to black. Muzzle, chin, and throat whitish and feet blackish. Striped tail. Head and body length 16.1–23.4 in (41–67 cm), tail length 12.6–27.2 in (32–69 cm).Mainly in wooded areas. Use tail as balancing organ, primarily diurnal. Loose band of to 20 individuals. Single reproductive season.Cozumel Island off north-eastern Yucatán, Mexico.Fruits, other plant matter, large rodents.Endangered
Ring-tailed coati Nasua nasua Spanish: Coatí isleñoTawny red with black face; a small white spot above and below each eye and a large one on each cheek; white throat, belly; black feet, black rings on tail. Head and body length 31.5–51.2 in (80–130 cm).Mainly in wooded areas. Use tail as balancing organ, primarily diurnal. Loose band of 4 to 20 individuals. Single reproductive season.Arizona, United States, to Argentina.Fruits, other plant matter, large rodents.Not threatened
Cacomistle Bassariscus sumichrasti French: Bassarai rusé; Spanish: BabisuriColor is buffy gray to brownish, tail is ringed with buff and black. Ears are pointed, tail is long. Head and body length 15–18.5 in (38–47 cm), tail length 15.4–20.9 in (39–53 cm).Tropical forests and is very arboreal. Enters estrus in winter, spring, or summer. Late winter is main breeding season.Southern Mexico to western Panama.Insects, rodents, birds, fruits, and other vegetable matter.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Allen's olingo Bassaricyon alleni Spanish: Olingo leonadoUpperparts are pinkish buff to golden, mixed with black or grayish. Underparts are pale yellowish. Tail is flat and body is elongate. Head and body length 13.8–18.5 in (35–47 cm), tail length 15.7–18.9 in (40–48 cm).Tropical forests from sea level to 6,560 ft (2,000 m). Primarily aboreal and nocturnal. There is no definite breeding season. Females give birth to one off-spring per year.Ecuador east of the Andes, and Peru to Cuzco Province; Bolivia; and possibly into Venezuela.Mainly fruit, but also insects and warm-blooded animals.Not threatened
Beddard's olingo Bassaricyon beddardi Spanish: Olingo de GuayanaUpperparts are pinkish buff to golden, mixed with black or grayish. Underparts are pale yellowish. Tail is flat and body is elongate. Head and body length 13.8–18.5 in (35–47 cm), tail length 15.7–18.9 in (40–48 cm).Tropical forests from sea level to 6,560 ft (2,000 m). Primarily aboreal and nocturnal. There is no definite breeding season. Females give birth to one off-spring per year.Guyana, and possibly adjacent Venezuela and Brazil.Mainly fruit, but also insects and warm-blooded animals.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Olingo Bassaricyon gabbii Spanish: Olingo grisáceoColoration is light brown with cream under-sides and neck. Tail has 11–13 dark brown rings. Long muzzle and no prehensile tail. Head and body length 14–16 in (35.6–40.6 cm), tail length 15–19 in (38.1–48.3 cm).Rainforests of Central America and northwestern South America, at elevations from sea level to 6,560 ft (2,000 m). Arboreal, nocturnal, and solitary. There is no particular breeding season. Females give birth to one offspring per year.Central Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, western Colombia, and western Ecuador.Mostly fruits, nectar, insects, small mammals, and birds.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Harris's olingo Bassaricyon lasius Spanish: Olingo costarricenseUpperparts are pinkish buff to golden, mixed with black or grayish. Underparts are pale yellowish. Tail is flat and body is elongate. Head and body length 13.8–18.5 in (35–47 cm), tail length 15.7–18.9 in (40–48 cm).Tropical forests from sea level to 6,560 ft (2,000 m). Primarily arboreal and nocturnal. Spends day in nest. Lives alone or in pairs.Known only from type locality: 6–8 mi (9.7–12.9 km) south of Cartago, Costa Rica, near the source of the Rio Estrella, at an altitude of about 4,500 ft (1,370 m).Mainly fruit, but also insects and warm-blooded animals.Endangered

Resources

Books

Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

Zeveloff, S. I. Raccoons: A Natural History. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.

Periodicals

Baskin, J. A. "Tertiary Procyonidae (Mammalia: Carnivora) of North America." Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 2 (1982): 71–93.

Ford, L. S., and R. S. Hoffman. "Potos flavus." Mammalian Species 321 (1988): 1–9.

Goldman, E.A. "Raccoons of North and Middle America." North American Fauna 60 (1950): 1–156.

Gompper, M. E. "Nasua narica." Mammalian Species 487 (1995): 1–10.

Helgen, K. M., and D. E. Wilson. "Taxonomic Status and Conservation Relevance of the Enigmatic Raccoons (Procyon spp.) of the West Indies." The Zoological Society of London 259 (2003): 69–76.

Lotze, J.-H., and S. Anderson. "Procyon lotor." Mammalian Species 119 (1979): 1–8.

Poglayen-Neuwall, I., and D. E. Toweill. "Bassariscus astutus." Mammalian Species 327(1988): 1–8.

Roberts, M. S., and J. L. Gittleman. "Ailurus fulgens." Mammalian Species 222 (1984): 1–8.

Serge Larivière, PhD

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