Signs of Intelligence

Procyon lotor, the northern raccoon, is an interesting animal found all over Statesville. Raccoons are usually nocturnal and omnivorous, meaning they are equal opportunists when it comes to eating. The percentage of invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants that they consume are almost evenly distributed. At the greenway, we have seen raccoon tracks along the bank of the creek, crossing the trail, along the trail, and all over the woods. We even saw raccoon tracks around a dead, red-bellied woodpecker that had been plucked.

 
We put up two trail cameras for a month, and raccoons were in 85% of the pictures. Two of the pictures raised some questions. One picture shows four raccoons crawling around a tree. This was a picture from one of our non-baited stations. What makes it interesting is the fact that before the 1990’s, raccoons were thought to be mainly solitary animals. Recent studies have shown that females that are related sometimes meet at feeding grounds. Research also shows that males sometimes set up their own “bachelor pads” to defend their territory against outsiders.
 
Four raccoons hanging out. You can see the back of the fourth at the bottom of the picture.
The other picture was taken at a bait station. We placed a whole NY strip in a suet feeder cage and attached it to a tree. We got pictures of this particular raccoon climbing the tree, sniffing the meat, and the next picture showed that the steak was gone while the suet cage remained. How did the raccoon do it? Did he pull the steak through the cage? Not likely. Did he open the suet and then close it? Maybe he broke the steak into small enough pieces so that he could then pull them out. If he did this, he had to do it within a minute because the camera was set to have a one minute delay between shots.
 
Raccoon and empty suet feeder.
I heard one story recently where a raccoon took a suet feeder from a tree one night only to return the empty cage the next night to the base of the tree. It is safe to say that raccoons are very intelligent. Surprisingly, intelligence studies among raccoons are lacking. Some show that their learning speed is equivalent to the rhesus macaques, and another shows that they can remember solutions to problems for an extended period of time. There is a lot we do not know about these mammals. The one thing we do know is that they certainly are thriving along the greenway trails.
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