Episode 282 – Raccoons: Wiley Bandits

“…and today we’re talking about a master thief who is the king of trash mountain. But more on that later.”

A generalist has a general wish

To bandit with reckless abandon.

Bird eggs, crumb cakes, delicious fried fish…

Dining fine? Easier said than done.

A cunning mind will help raccoons find

The dishes to delight their fancy.

A challenging problem is no great bind

In their Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Raccoon

  • Looks like a fat ringtail lemur mixed with a cat-sized rat
  • It has a long but plump body, a long bushy tail ringed with black and white, and an adorable face with an Incredibles mask
  • It’s covered in grey-brown hair on its body with black spots over its eyes
  • They have mousey faces and long whiskers that come out from either side of their snouts.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!

Body Length

  • 40 and 70 cm (16 and 28 in)
  • How many Kolibri pistols go into the length of the average raccoon?
  • Hint: The Kolibri pistol is also called the hummingbird. It was made by an Austrian watchmaker named Franz Pfannl in the early 1900s. It fired a tiny 3-grain bullet.
  • 263 cartridges. The pistol has a 2.7 mm long centerfire cartridge. 


  • 5 and 12 kg (11 and 26 lb)
  • How many raccoons would an Irish wolfhound have to catch its weight in raccoons?
  • Hint: The Irish wolfhound is a sighthound breed that first emerged in the late 1800s. They are an attempt to recreate the extinct wolfhounds that were once common in Ireland. 
  • 5.7 raccoons. The Irish wolfhound can be up to 150 pounds. 

Fast Facts about the Raccoon

  • Range: Lives in North America from Panama to Canada. But it’s been introduced to Germany, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Japan.
    • They like heavily wooded areas unless the trees are birch, which is too smooth to climb. They like to make their dens in the hollows of trees far away from predators.
  • Diet: Part of the raccoon’s success is because, like a rat, it can eat and digest a wide variety of things.
    • In nature, it eats insects, worms, crayfish, frogs, fish, birds, small mammals, fruits, and nuts.
    • But it has adapted to find and eat human organic waste, allowing them actually to thrive in urban environments.
  • Behavior
    • 20-year lifespan
    • 65-day gestation
      • Kits will be raised in dens by their mothers until they’re weaned at about 16 weeks.
      • After which, the females will hang out around their dens while males can range up to 12 miles.
    • Their predators include bears, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, cougars, alligators, eagles, owls, fishers, jaguars, and even lynxes in Russia.
      • However, their primary cause of death is a disease called distemper
      • They’re also exterminated as pests or hunted by Texan folk heroes to wear as iconic hats
    • They’re kept as pets, though it’s not advised. Calvin Coolidge kept a pet raccoon named Rebecca.

Major Fact: Wiley Bandits

Raccoons are extremely intelligent. Animal intelligence can only be estimated via tests and by looking at their brains. Take everything with a grain of salt because cognitive adaptations are often based on specific needs in an animal’s environment, making it difficult to estimate general intelligence. 

For instance, chimpanzees are way better at memory-matching games than humans are, but that doesn’t mean they are generally smarter.

That being said, raccoons are said to be smarter than cats, and some estimations put them just below monkeys.

Because they are so smart, they were once used as ideal lab test candidates, but it turned out they were too smart. They would often break out of enclosures and hide in the vents. When researchers would try to get them back, they would become aggressive. 

In addition to being intelligent, they are also curious and persistent, which helps them fly through intelligence puzzles thrown at them. In one experiment, a floating marshmallow was placed in a water cylinder, and the raccoons were trained to use stones to increase the water level to reach the mallow. Raccoons would also steal and hide the stones.

They were also given objects of differing weights and buoyancies to determine whether the heavier, denser objects were better for the task. But they sold the problem in unexpected ways. One got on top of the cylinder and rocked their body weight back and forth to topple the whole thing over. 

Another used a buoyant rubber ball to push down on the water, creating waves that splashed the marshmallow within reach. 

Raccoons are called bandits, but they are actually bank robbers. In 2020, a Redwood City, California bank was burgled by two raccoons that broke into air ducts on the roof. However, they weren’t in it for the money. Instead, their preferred loot was the almond cookies in the break room. 

They’re smart, but we might be making them smarter.

City raccoons are found to be better problem solvers than their woodland kin. Raccoons that are stuck in the suburbs or in cities are nearly unstoppable when it comes to protecting garbage cans and other urban objects of interest. This is because raccoons have neophilia or the love of new things. Where other animals treat new things as potentially dangerous, raccoons are naturally curious about new things. 

In an urban environment, there are a ton of things that are foreign to a woodland creature. When something new is between them and something they want, like food, they will work at it until they figure it out.

Trash cans that are protected by bungee cords and even built-in locks are only a temporary setback to these trach babies. When city raccoons are tested against their briar-folk cousins, they are consistently better at solving puzzles. 

One raccoon even hitched a ride on a trash truck. Legend has it he made it to trash heaven, where he lives in peace to this day.

Ending: So nestle into a nice human city, defeat those thief stereotypes even though you definitely are a thief, and use your animal wits to find a nice cup of garbage juice like the raccoon here in LDT.