Misunderstood Animals: Raccoon Edition

Misunderstood Animals is a column shedding light on creatures that are misunderstood and underappreciated.


Leia Wilson, Dedicated Writer

The Raccoon


Ah yes, the raccoon. This animal is very well known for many things, and yet very misunderstood at the same time. Raccoons are pretty common in many places around the world, and chances are, you’ve seen one or have known one living near you.

When I hear any stories about the raccoon, its usually not positive. These animals can be annoying little creatures who live in your backyard and steal your trash or make a mess, maybe even scaring you or another animal in the process. For the most part, quite a few people I know tend to think of raccoons as just pests, but they are so much more than that.

Raccoons are actually very intelligent creatures that have a lot of history behind things such as their appearance, and it is important to know their history before you judge them.

Masks Are Important to Raccoons

One of the raccoon’s most recognizable features is their masks. There has been a connection made between their mask and the mask of bandits, which I automatically see when I look at the raccoon. I remember there was one time when I came in contact with a baby raccoon that a neighbor of ours had found, and their mask was one of the first things I saw.

It turns out that their masks actually are very important for the raccoon. Michelle Debzak, a senior staff writer for Mental Floss, a website created at Duke University that talks about all sorts of topics such as history and science, explains that, “The black fur works just like the black stickers athletes wear under their eyes: The dark color absorbs incoming light, reducing glare that would otherwise bounce into their eyes and obstruct their vision. At night, when raccoons are most active, less peripheral light makes it easier for them to perceive contrast in the objects of their focus, which is essential for seeing in the dark,” explained Debzak.

Since raccoons are nocturnal (nocturnal means when something or someone gets something done at night, so raccoons tend to do most of their scavenging at night), masks do significantly help them see when they are scavenging for food, or doing anything else in the dark. 

Raccoons Are Very Intelligent

Raccoons are really great problem solvers and usually adapt to different situations pretty well when they need to. Luke Groskin, a video producer, and Johanna Mayer, a freelance writer and the host of Science Diction, both of which work for Science Friday, a website that focuses on anything having to do with science, writes that, “Stanton suspected the raccoons would act like other animals, but instead they simply picked up as many objects as they could, and dumped them into the tub all at once. ‘The raccoons were very flexible in the choices they made and I think that really speaks to the character of the raccoons,’ says Stanton.’” 

Raccoons tend to think outside of the box if they need to and can very easily adapt to different situations. It can be surprising the decisions they make, just as Lauren Stanton states. Stanton was surprised by these raccoon’s decisions, and she is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wyoming. Raccoons, even if they do give up sometimes or can’t figure something out do try and solve the problem that they are tasked with.

They Locate Their Food with their Hands

It’s no secret that raccoons are known for their hands. Even though raccoons don’t have opposable thumbs like humans, their hands still remind me of our hands. Raccoons need their hands for many things, one of which is to look for food. Raccoons don’t really use their eyesight to look for food, but instead, they use their hands to search. Debzak explains this when she says, “Their front paws are incredibly dexterous and contain roughly four times more sensory receptors than their back paws…This allows them to differentiate between objects without seeing them, which is crucial when feeding at night…Raccoons can heighten their sense of touch through something called dousing…”  Raccoons have hands that just work better for finding their food. They are able to recognize a piece of food when they touch it due to dousing, which is when a raccoon wets its hands to stimulate the nerve endings. They rely on their hands just like humans rely on their eyesight.


In conclusion, raccoons are great creatures that can be annoying at times but definitely deserve more than their reputation. If you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t normally give a raccoon a chance, then maybe find out more about them and find out how great they are. If you understand them, then you can find that they are great animals that deserve more. I have a soft spot for raccoons after having met the one that I talked about above, and hopefully, if you encounter one or have encountered one, you can come to care for them too.

Information About The Next Misunderstood Animal

Did you enjoy this blog? Tune in again to read about the next misunderstood animal. I won’t name the animal, but I will list three facts below, that could potentially help you, and might let you learn something new:

  1. This animal is mainly found in South America.
  2. These animals bark when they are caught, to warn another one of their kind if they are having a visual staring contest as if saying not to mess with them, or if they end up fighting this other one of their kind.
  3. These animals can be found in groups, but only for safety, not for strength. Other than that, they tend to stay pretty separate.