Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are a common sight in North American towns and cities. With their distinctive dark facial masks and ringed tails, raccoons appear like little bandits. These intelligent little mammals enjoy a reputation as incredible escape artists and infiltrators. Homeowners go to great lengths to keep raccoons out of trash and yards, as they love pet bowls, bird feeders, and trash cans.
Most people realize that raccoons are amazingly dexterous and agile. Still, their abilities beg the question, “Can raccoons climb trees, fences, and walls?” Let’s take a look at the climbing capabilities of raccoons. We’ll also examine their intelligence and what steps you can take to keep raccoons out of your yard.
5 Amazing Facts About Raccoons
- Raccoons possess keen senses of sight, touch, and hearing but relatively worse senses of smell and taste.
- The name raccoon comes from the Powhatan word meaning “animal that scratches with its hands.”
- Raccoons share similar physical characteristics with weasels as well as molecular similarities with bears.
- The raccoon’s specific name lotor comes from the Latin word for “washer,” referring to the raccoon’s habit of “cleaning” food.
- Raccoons eat a wide variety of plants and animals, making them one of the most omnivorous animals on the planet.
Can Raccoons Climb Trees, Fences, and Walls?
Raccoons can climb all sorts of surfaces with ease, including trees, fences, and walls. These include concrete walls and wire and wood fences. They have no problem climbing both regular and irregular surfaces and can even descend trees headfirst. However, certain surfaces seem to pose problems for raccoons. Raccoons struggle to climb smooth vertical surfaces such as glass and metals. They also can’t climb extremely thin poles and other surfaces that don’t offer them proper grip.
What Makes Raccoons Excellent Climbers?
Raccoons’ excellent climbing ability stems from their dexterous front paws. Their hands function similarly to human hands and feature strong, long digits. They use their sharp claws to grab onto surfaces and maintain their grip. Additionally, raccoons possess highly flexible paws, as they can rotate their paws around 180 degrees. This ability enables them to climb down trees headfirst. Along with their physical abilities, raccoons also possess a keen intelligence. Their intelligence allows them to quickly scan their environment and find suitable climbing routes to reach food or escape predators.
One of the reasons that raccoons are so “troublesome” is their high level of intelligence. They often outsmart humans by circumventing obstacles and finding ways to escape traps to steal food and break into trash cans. In fact, raccoons often display a similar level of intelligence as many species of monkeys. They can pick complex locks given enough attempts and can thwart garbage lids specifically designed to keep out raccoons.
Raccoons also possess excellent memories. They remember where to find food and can adapt to changing environments with ease. Their ability to thrive near humans is a testament to their adaptability and high IQ. Raccoons realize that human trash offers plenty of easy calories, and they use critical thinking skills to solve problems in achieving their goal – i.e., opening your trash can to get to your leftovers buried inside.
Amazing Raccoon Climbing Stories
Spend a little time surfing the web, and you’re sure to come across some stories about raccoons getting into trouble. Many of these stories revolve around raccoons scaling incredibly high structures.
For example, a raccoon climbed a tree in Redding, California, on April 1, 2023. This tree houses a bald eagle nest 90 feet above the ground that serves as a home for a pair of eagles known as the Redding Eagles. The raccoon scaled the tree in the wee hours of April 1s to get at some food scraps that the eagles left behind from an earlier meal. Thankfully, the eagles that use the nest weren’t at home; otherwise, that raccoon may have bitten off more than it could chew.
Back in 2018, a raccoon climbed to the top of the UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dubbed the “MPR Raccoon” after the Minnesota Public Radio employees that chronicled its journey, this 2-year-old female raccoon became a local sensation thanks to its incredible climbing display. Three maintenance workers first discovered the raccoon on a ledge 20 feet above the street and tried to coax the animal down. Unperturbed, the raccoon instead began to scale the building. The little daredevil soon attracted a crowd of onlookers as it climbed higher and higher. For much of the ascent, the raccoon climbed up the sheer walls of the building with nothing but air beneath it. Eventually, employees of the Wildlife Management Services managed to lure the raccoon to the building’s roof using cans of cat food placed inside traps. The traps proved successful and thus ended the journey of the MPR Raccoon.
Other Incredible Climbers
Many animals possess incredible climbing skills. Some animals rely on their opposable thumbs, while others depend on sharp claws or sticky pads on their hands and feet. Regardless of what technique they use, these climbing animals put even the best professional human rock climbers to shame. Here’s a brief list of some of the best climbers in the animal kingdom:
- Bighorn sheep
- Mountain goats
- Tree frogs
- Coconut crabs
Let’s take a closer look at how these different animals’ climbing skills. For example, bears climb by wrapping their limbs around trees and using their strong, short claws to hold themselves in place. Meanwhile, monkeys use their strong, flexible toes and fingers to grasp onto ledges and branches and use their tails to help them maintain their balance. Finally, mountain goats use their thin frame to squeeze onto ledges which they anchor onto using their split hooves that feature rubbery pads like shoes.
Why Do Raccoons Climb Trees and Structures?
Like other animals, raccoons primarily climb for two reasons: to find food and escape predators. Unlike some arboreal animals like sloths and monkeys, raccoons do not live in trees. As a result, they lonely climb to achieve a specific goal. Finding food is the number one reason why raccoons climb trees and other structures. They may climb trees to find fruit or raid eggs from bird nests. Similarly, they climb fences to reach bird seed or pet food left out in yards.
When threatened by predators, raccoons often scamper up the tallest object they can find in hopes of escaping their pursuer. Once up a tree, raccoons may decide to rest in the branches until they recover enough energy to move on.
How Can I Keep Raccoons Out of My Yard?
Many homeowners know the trouble that raccoons can cause in your yard. Raccoons won’t hesitate to throw trash all over your property or dig holes in your lawn. Thankfully, there are a few simple things you can do to keep raccoons out of your yard.
First and foremost, take steps to secure your trash cans. Make sure you always place food waste in trash bags and make sure that trash doesn’t spill out of the can. Next, remove any bird feeders, compost piles, or pet food bowls. These open food sources attract raccoons and entice them to climb your fence or enter your yard. If you grow fruits and veggies in your yard, you can try to protect your produce with a greenhouse, electrified fence, or chicken wire. Lastly, you can try to install motion detectors and floodlights that can bathe your yard in light. Raccoons are nocturnal and typically avoid areas with bright light. These lights can help to deter raccoons, although they likely won’t keep away a hungry raccoon that senses food.
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