By Ali Dunstan
Amongst the most intelligent of Florida wildlife would have to be the raccoon.
With range throughout the state, raccoons are extremely common and can be found practically anywhere. Raccoons are a native species and live in urban, suburban and rural areas and have had success adapting to life within developed regions.
Raccoons live in tree cavities and tend to inhabit areas that offer some tree coverage and provide quiet, dark and empty places for them to sleep. Raccoons also love water and are frequently encountered in areas with access to it. A fun fact about raccoons is that they often wet their food before eating it. This behavior heightens their senses in a similar way in which humans use light to enhance our vision.
Raccoons have five toes on their front and back feet and noticeably use their long, dexterous fingers to explore their surroundings and are even able to open doors and latches. Easily identifiable by the black markings on their face and bushy, ringed tail, raccoons are most commonly spotted around dusk and dawn.
Their diet consists of fruit, small animals, eggs, plants, crustaceans and even garbage. Due to their opportunistic, scavenging ways and masked appearance, they have lovingly earned the title of ‘trash pandas.’
These 10 to 15-pound creatures are generally, not strictly, nocturnal, but can also be active during daylight hours without cause for concern. Some reasons for witnessing a raccoon during the day could be that they have been disrupted or scared from their habitat, that a nursing mother is foraging while the babies sleep or juvenile raccoons have lost track of the time, much like human teenagers.
Raccoons are considered a nuisance species in the state, but it is easy to co-exist with these curious, social critters.
Conflicts with raccoons can be reduced with a few simple steps: Never leave food or pet food outside to eliminate artificial food sources. Keep grills clean and closed. Make sure all trash receptacles are secure and covered. Keep screen and pool rooms closed. Like all wild animals, if you stay away from them, they will stay away from you.
Please remember, raccoons are part of our amazing ecosystem and should be respected and admired from afar. Once these animals become a problem, people report it and that often results in certain death for them. Together, we can help to keep our wildlife wild and free.