Although we humans arguably have the most remarkable hands in the animal kingdom – with our opposable thumbs suitable for grabbing – there are a few other animals with exceptional hands, or paws, worthy of our attention. Surprisingly enough, one of them is the raccoon. But why should we marvel at a raccoon’s paws?
Due to the anatomy of a Raccoon’s fingerlike paws, raccoons are well suited for scratching, swimming, climbing, digging, grabbing, and opening objects. The texture of a raccoon’s paws also gives them a heightened sense of touch while rubbing their paws increases this sense of touch tremendously.
Raccoons use their paws in a vast variety of ways. Which, it’s important to understand all of the unique and different instances where a raccoon can put their paws to use, because it will help you understand how to keep them off your property and out of your backyard for the long haul. Let’s get to it!
The Beauty of a Raccon’s Paws
As some of you may already know, raccoons have a set of powerful, dexterous paws. Equipped with two in the back and two in the front, they represent a neat set of hands.
We loosely refer to hands because their paws are quite fingerlike indeed. From this truism flows the fact that they are allowed to use their paws as hands. As we shall see, a raccoon’s paws will enable a raccoon to scratch, swim, climb, dig, sense, clean, hold, grab, open, pull, and protect.
However, marvelous as they are, a raccoon’s paws did not evolve to become equipped with a set of opposable thumbs. That said, we shall see that they are quite able to lend each other a hand if need be. Let’s dive into it together.
Quick tip: a raccoon’s paws are not considered to be hands since they technically lack the physical structure of an opposable thumb. Regardless, raccoons seem like they really don’t need thumbs due to how versatile their paws are!
Raccoons Use Their Paws to Scratch, Scratch, and Scratch!
First of all, raccoons are known to scratch and scratch. Interestingly enough, as their fondness for scratching goes far and deep, they are actually named after this behavioral treat. As a matter of fact, their name was given to them by a Native American tribe in east Virginia; the Powhatan, also referred to as the Algonquian peoples.
Although having initially emerged in various parts in and around Europe and North Pacific, raccoons are natively found across Northern America. Indeed, they are said to be introduced to the New World via the Caribbean islands around 1650, some 158 years after discovering the Americas.
The English label, raccoon, can be roughly translated to the animal which scratches. However, they were likely given their splendid name due to the diverse range of abilities that rest within their paws.
As raccoons have the ability to grab and hold, it can explain why, in their wake, there are plenty of scratches to behold. Plenty of scratch marks can be readily attributed to an attempt at grasping further.
In and of itself, it is no surprise that in order to master their abilities to grab or holding particular objects, they scratch like a child will fall and stand. Therefore, the scratch marks should not be dismissed as mere footprints.
Quick tip: one of the straightforward ways to spot a raccoon’s presence is actually by way of identifying their scratch marks. Indeed, they are just a scratch away.
Raccoons Use Their Paws to Swim!
Raccoons are known to work on their strokes! Even though you won’t catch them doing a backstroke or butterfly – they are nocturnal creatures after all – they are keen freestylers and front crawlers. Although they do not push their arms backward to create momentum, they use the extra strength that lies within their paws.
Within the world of animal locomotion – a label that refers to how animals move – raccoons are known to place their paws in front for a marvelous stroke at a significant speed.
In general, raccoons can swim around 3 miles per hour, meaning they reach half of the speed – 6 miles per hour – at which the average human swims.
Therefore they are also known to swim faster than dogs, which swims an average of 1 to 2 mph. Lastly, raccoons are even known to hunt and fish in and around a watery area, meaning they can use their paws for hunting while staying afloat, remarkable indeed.
Interesting fact: The fastest animal in the water is a bird, called the Peregrine falcon. A bird that preys on fish in the water with a sense of speed and violence remains unmatched in the animal kingdom. Of course, they cannot swim for long periods at a time. However, they dive into the water at a speed of around 200 mph. In second place comes the sailfish (Marlins), with speed reaching around 65 mph.
And so, do not be surprised if one day you find yourself facing a raccoon performing a casual stroke in your recently cleaned swimming pool. Besides the cuteness going through the roof, they might leave a small, brown, and smelly present behind. You have been warned.
Raccoons Use Their Paws to Climb High
Raccoons like to climb, and they do so rather well. No string of robes needed, just a set of paws, a sense of curiosity, and off into the heights they go. To everyone’s surprise, they are reported seen climbing to the top of trees.
This begs the question of whether they actually live high up in the trees as well.
Even though they are notorious climbers, raccoons prefer to sleep inside a hole in the stem of a tree or in burrows and hollow spaces when possible. They furthermore tend to change dens after a couple of days.
Not only do raccoons use their paws to climb trees and traverse the wonders of nature, but they also make their way through the wonders of civilization, and doing so leaves not a single structure untouched.
Raccoons are sometimes spotted in urban areas wandering in alleys, abandoned structures, and rooftops – truly transforming themselves into masked bandits of the night.
In general, raccoons are highly adaptable – today, they are even reported seen beyond the cold, as far north as Alaska. (although genuinely preferring moderate climates)
They are thus known to adapt to their environment to adjust and optimize their living conditions. When humanity started to urbanize its living spaces, raccoons followed and found ways to co-exist. It is on that account not surprising to spot a raccoon within urban environments.
Raccoons Use Their Paws as Claws to Dig Deep
Raccoons put their paws to full use when they excavate a site searching for food or digging out a burrow suitable to serve as their den.
When it comes to digging for food, raccoons are on the lookout for insects and will dig into grabbing hold of all that which slithers in the dust and earth beneath our feet.
As they dig blindly, following their sense of smell, they might end up wandering through your garden. To prevent raccoons from turning your backyard into the latest archeological site, some repellents can be used – besides setting up a fence, etc.
Quick tip: The most animal-friendly repellent (low on toxin) presents itself in the form of a peppermint spray. For more information concerning such sprays, you might want to take a quick look at the following Rodent Sheriff Spray.
If you are curious about the smells that raccoons seem to dislike strongly, you can have a further look at 9 scents that raccoons hate.
Long term however, it may be wise to set up a garden fence, if that’s where you’re trying to repel them from. While raccoons are notorious diggers, their digging usually comes from foraging, rather than trying to gain access into a certain place.
However, if the prize is good enough, they may dig under your fence to get to their goal. In order to combat this, just make sure that your fence is buried at least two feet deep, with the bottom pointed outwards at a 90 degree angle – and you should be good to go!
Raccoons Use Their Paws as Hands, Made to Grab, Hold, or Open!
Because a raccoon’s paws come equipped with 5 fingerlike toes on each paw, their paws become nimble to the point where they begin to resemble a little set of hands.
The fact that they have fingers similar to our own, enables them to grab at objects within their sight. As such, they are known to stealing objects which might not even belong to their menu. Indeed, their ability to grab and hold, coupled with their general habit of scavenging, transformers them into ideal burglars.
Besides being able to grab things insight, they can hold on to objects quite firmly. Although raccoons lack opposable thumbs and thus have difficulty holding on to things with one hand, they are known to use both their front paws to hold on to something tightly.
When it comes to their ability to exert a good pull, they are reported to open all sorts of doors, from front doors to refrigerators. They are seen to wrestle with garbage and crawl into vents, enabling themselves to grab, hold or pull themselves into various spaces, both low and high.
For these reasons, raccoons have been reported to hide inside barns, or have been spotted in attics and basements. In short, they can end up finding their way inside through unlocked doors, various climbable surfaces, or by way of a dedicated dig.
Although quite rare, raccoons have been spotted inside cars. In the rare case that you do find a raccoon inside, you might want to make use of an indoor repellent. For more information, have a quick look at the Rodent Vehicle Protection.
On a separate side note, I once had a family of mice living in my car during high school. We got back from a Spring break vacation out of state, and I noticed my car had a weird funk to it (no, not like that)
A few weeks had passed, and come to find out we had a family of mice living in my car that had since passed and were rotting inside the engine of the car. While that likely isn’t going to happen with a raccoon (they’re just too big), it could happen with other rodents, specifically mice!
Raccoon’s Paws Give Them Heightened Sense of Touch
Although raccoons have a high sense of smell, they actually stand out for their heightened sense of touch. As such, it is even said that their paws serve as an extra pair of eyes.
Once a myth, it was said that raccoons wet their paws to wash themselves before or after eating. Furthermore, it was once readily believed that they actually wash their catch before or after eating.
Interesting fact: The myth of washing went so far that some older European cultures actually still refer to raccoons as wash-bears. (Raton laveur in French, Waschbär in German, Wasbeer in Dutch)
However, of late, it has been discovered that if they do dip their food into safe waters, it is to identify their catch better. Indeed, as raccoons are very sensitive to touch, wet objects make for an even more sensitive and identifiable experience. In short, wetness in their paws assist our little friends in identifying objects better going forward.
Raccoons Rub Their Paws To Increase Their Sense of Touch
In the light of their high sensitivity to touch, raccoons can be found rubbing their paws together. Although it was also believed this was a way of cleaning their hands, it is now clear that it relates more to their sense of touch.
Raccoons will even rub the object between their paws to increase their senses, as a matter of identification – while sometimes cleaning the object in the process. With their paws being highly sensitive, raccoons have a strong sense of touch, to begin with.
In general, sensitivity is related to intelligence. And so finally, we can argue that the dexterity in their hands is thanks to the high amount of neutrons in their brains. Perhaps they even rub their paws together as a sign of their brain activity.
Furthermore, although not very common, it is said that when raccoons are spotted in urban environments, they might rub their hands together as to signal a particular need – most likely the need for food, as they hold their prey between their paws.
Lastly, another reason why raccoons rub their paws is simply that they can. Not only can they rub their paws, but due to the high sensitivity in their paws, they can feel a strong sensation when doing so.
Interesting fact: Raccoons are known to make a great deal of noise when need be. Therefore they can make over 200 different kinds of sounds. As such, they have created an elaborate language of their own.
In the end, it comes as no surprise that raccoons are considered to be brilliant animals, with the average IQ to be found greater than a cat, yet smaller than a monkey – storing some 438 million neutrons in their tiny brain.
Raccoons Use Their Paws For Protection
Finally, raccoons use their paws in order to defend themselves from predators. Although their list of predators places our own species at the top, common predators also include big cats (mountain lions, pumas), coyotes, wolves, and large owls.
When raccoons venture far beyond their territory (usually males), they might even clash with other raccoons.
As they can carry infectious diseases as well, it is advised never to touch a wild raccoon with your bare hands.
In case you do come across a group of raccoons – also called a nursery – do not hesitate to contact your local animal control. You can also opt to contact our nationwide network of pest and wildlife control professionals to find a contractor near you within a matter of seconds.
Thank you for reading!
Carlson, M. (1991). Notes on Raccoons From Edam, Saskatchewan. Blue Jay, 49(2).
Curtis, P. D., & Sullivan, K. L. (2001). Raccoons. Wildlife damage management fact sheet series. Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY.
Fisher-Wirth, A. (2006). Raccoons, A History. Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, 8(1).
Goldman, E. A., & Jackson, H. H. (1950). Raccoons of north and middle America. North American Fauna, (60).
Hurtig, J. (2008). Raccoons. Weigl Publishers.
Lammertsma, D. R., Bruinderink. (2008). Wasberen (Procyon lotor L. 1758) in Nederland: verspreiding, ecologie en mogelijke gevolgen voor Nederland. Alterra.
Meißner, M. (2011). Manuel und der Waschbär. Pekrul and Sohn Gbr.
Norris, T., & Sells, S. (2004). Raccoon: Procyon lotor.
Tevis, L. (1947). Summer activities of California raccoons. Journal of Mammalogy, 28(4), 323-332.
Whiteside, D. P. (2009). Nutrition and behavior of coatis and raccoons. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice.
Zeveloff, S. I. (2002). Raccoons: a natural history. UBC Press(1).