Populations of raccoons consist of a high proportion of young animals, with ½ to ¾ of fall populations normally composed of animals less than a year in age. Raccoons may live up to 12 years in the wild, but such animals are extremely rare.
Raccoons mainly breed in February or March, but mating may occur from December through June, depending on latitude. Gestation lasts about 63 days. Most litters are born in April or May but some late-breeding females (typically those who lost their first litter) may not give birth until June, July, or August. Only 1 litter of young is raised per female per year. Average litter size is 3 to 5 young. Young first open their eyes at about 3 weeks and are weaned between 2 and 4 months of age.
Less than half of the females in a population will breed the year after their birth. Most adult females breed every year. Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year with the young often denning with the adult female during winter. The family gradually separates during the following spring as the young become independent.
Raccoons prefer crevices for their dens. Den sites may include, hollow trees, ground burrows, brush piles, muskrat houses, barns and abandoned buildings, dense clumps of cattail, haystacks, rock crevices, sewers, under sheds and porches, chimneys, and attics.
Raccoons are nocturnal. Adult males occupy territories of 3 to 20 square miles, compared to 1 to 6 square miles for females. Adult males tend to be territorial and their ranges overlap very little.
Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather. In the southern US, they may be inactive for only a day or 2 at a time, whereas this period of inactivity may extend for weeks or months in the north. In northern areas, raccoons may lose up to half their fall body weight during winter as they use stored body fat.
Raccoons prefer hardwood forests near water. They also occur around farmsteads and livestock watering areas, far from naturally occurring bodies of permanent water.
Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Plant foods include fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl.