Critter Profile: Northern raccoon | Part 2
Need to catch Part 1? Read it here.
I’ve commented to customers that if they were to grab a lawn chair and hang out in their driveway for a couple of hours after dark, they might be surprised at what wildlife they see roaming the night. It is quite likely that a raccoon would stroll through their yard at some point. Raccoons have a remarkable range estimated at perhaps 250 acres. Of course, if shelter, food and water are available, they may never need to travel this far. Part I of this article provided information about the raccoons natural and urban habitats, seasonal activities, food preferences, and reproduction. This article extends our insight by discussing evidence to look for when they have infiltrated, common diseases associated with raccoons, their range of damage, and some ways to keep raccoons moving along.
There are two behaviors to know about raccoon infiltration. First, raccoons don’t hide the fact that they’ve made entry. It is common to find debris and gaping holes where they go in. Second, raccoons are are expert climbers, and typically make entry at the soffit level or higher. One of the main difficulties in locating the entry point is getting a solid visual of all faces of the roof and supporting architecture. Often it is helpful to back away from the structure and first determine how the raccoon has accessed the roof. Was it a tree branch? A downspout? Some lattice work? A careful eye will pick up on the clues and physical evidence to make this assessment. Raccoons don’t always target the roof.
Mobile homes, for example, find their primary vulnerable point in the skirting. Again, raccoons don’t hid their entry, so identifying probable entry points is sometimes a matter of simply walking the perimeter and noting gaps. Sometimes raccoons are spending time on your property, but not actually going inside. I’ve walked a number of roofs and noted no entry points. But raccoons have certainly been there. And often! The evidence? Buckets worth of feces lying in the valleys and grooves of the roof. It is very common for a raccoon to select and create a latrine area.
These can go on for years and the homeowner is never the wiser until something prompts a closer look. Raccoon latrines are also common behind air conditioners and shrubs, and even on decks. Raccoons also set up latrine areas outside of urban areas. They will commonly set these up and off the ground in trees. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are called "latrine trees." Raccoons also favor fallen trees near water.
Disease and health risks
I remember as a youngster watching one of the nature shows where the raccoon approaches a stream and dabs its paws into the water as if it were washing before a meal. I think the narrator even implied this is what it was doing. While raccoons have the perception of being clean freaks, this isn’t necessarily the case. They have their share of diseases and parasites. Raccoons are prone to bacterial infections, including tuberculosis and Leptospirosis. They also are susceptible to a range of viruses, such as canine distemper, parvovirus, pseudorabies, and rabies. Rounding this list out out are the parasites. Internal parasites include Baylisascaris, flukes, and tapeworms. External parasites include ticks, lice, fleas, and botfly larvae
Raccoons depict nature’s perfect assemblage of body and mind for thriving in natural and urban settings. They have a solid muscular system, strong teeth and claws, and adaptable intelligence. They also possess persistence. This combination of features equips raccoons to create damage that can be expensive and difficult to prevent. Most of the damage by raccoons that I’ve surveyed start where a small gap or defect exposed a vulnerability.
For example, wood trim or roof sheathing that has soaked up water will waft a rot smell that cues a raccoon to investigate. The raccoon will often enough find if worth its while to dig through and make entry into an attic.
Raccoons are also known to shred through the foam insulation surrounding air conditioner lines. Other examples of damage include the latrines the establish in inconvenient locations: around the house perimeter, on a deck, in tree houses, on the roof, and inside the attic. The risk of spreading communicable diseases increases with these activity. As a final example, raccoons will compromise the attic insulation and hardware in attics, crawlspaces, and other voids. While it is often the case that these compromised areas don’t require an expensive fix, it should be inspected to assess the extent of the damage.
Reducing your vulnerability
I’ve catalogued a number of suggestions based upon visiting innumerable raccoon sites on ways to help reduce the likeliness that your home will be targeted. Of course, we are talking about wildlife, so the expectation is not to fully control the situation. The goal is to simply lower your odds:
- Remove food that attracts raccoons. Bird feeders are a major culprit. Even if raccoons cannot access the feeder, the spill often is a strong draw. Pet food, garbage cans, and dumpsters should all be secured. Also, consider removing any volunteer fruit trees and bushes, such as mulberry producers.
- Clean out the grease pan of your outdoor grill. The oils that accumulate are slow to dispense their odors, which makes the draw last much longer than water-rich food waste (like fruit).
- Keep branches trimmed away from roof areas. An average raccoon is 12-18 pounds, so slim branches that will bend under that weight should be fine. The variety of Arbor vitae that is tall and slender, and right up against the house, is a perfect ladder for raccoons to get on the roof.
Talk to a nuisance wildlife professional to learn what areas of your home are vulnerable to scaling. There may be some simple supplements that will make your roof inaccessible.
This two part series has hit upon a wide range of useful raccoon topics. Whether you are here because you suspect a raccoon is prowling nearby, or simply out of curiosity, thanks for reading!
Do you have additional tips? Leave your ideas in the comments!
How about a few resources for further study?
Animal Diversity Web: Northern Raccoons
Iowa DNR News Release: Cool things about raccoons
Iowa DNR News Release: Handle nuisance wildlife responsibly
 James Lee Cabalka, "Resting habits of the raccoon, Procyon lotor hirtus N. and G., in Central Iowa" (master's thesis, Iowa State University, 1952), 10. Accessed 8/1/2018, https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/rtd/16953/
 Robert Richard Costa, "Food habits of the raccoon, Procyon lotor hirtus N. and G., in central Iowa" (master's thesis, Iowa State University, 1951), 7. Accessed 8/2/2018, https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/rtd/18092/
Joe Taylor, M.S. Science Education, B.S. Biology, is a full time nuisance wildlife control operator in Eastern Iowa, and owner of Paw Control, LLC. Follow him on Twitter: @pawcontroller at LinkedIn, or the Paw Control blog: https://www.pawcontrol.com/blog