Raccoon Awareness Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Now somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon ..."
~ Rocky Raccoon, John Lennon/Paul McCartney, 1968
The English word raccoon comes from the Powhatan word aroughcun, which means "animal that scratches with its hands." Their front paws are incredibly dexterous and contain roughly four times more sensory receptors than their back paws—about the same ratio of human hands to feet. Raccoons heighten their sense of touch through something called dousing, wetting their hands, leading to the erroneous belief that raccoons wash their food before eating it. Incredible problem solvers, raccoons are known for their cleverness. In the early 1900s, ethologist H.B. Davis gave 12 raccoons a series of locks to crack. To access the treats inside the boxes, they had to navigate hooks, bolts, buttons, latches, and levers, with some boxes featuring more than one lock. In the end, the raccoons were able to get past 11 of the 13 mechanisms!
International Raccoon Appreciation Day (IRAD), is a day meant to celebrate all woodland animals, specifically raccoons, that while often considered pests or nuisance animals, are actually an important part of their local ecosystem.
In a study done in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in fewer than 10 tries and had no problems repeating the action when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Later studies show that they can remember the solutions to tasks for up to three years.
One aspect of raccoon behavior is so well known that it gives the animal part of its scientific name, Procyon lotor, "lotor" meaning "washer". In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shore-line. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to further examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon "washing" the food. The tactile sensitivity of raccoons' paws is increased if this rubbing action is performed underwater, since the water softens the hard layer of skin covering their paws.
While primarily hunted for their fur, raccoons were also a source of food for Native Americans and early American settlers. The first edition of The Joy of Cooking, released in 1931, contained a recipe for preparing raccoon, and U.S. President Calvin Coolidge's pet raccoon was originally sent as a gift from a Mississippi voter to be served at the White House Thanksgiving Dinner! Coolidge kept the raccoon as a pet, named her Rebecca and took her on walks around the White House gardens on a leash.
For a very funny internet hoax from 2015 that went viral involving a raccoon, a US Navy enlisted first class petty officer, and a breathalyzer, click the raccoon!