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Swamp Encounters 101: Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food? 

Home Swamp Wildlife Swamp Encounters 101: Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food? 

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Raccoons often find themselves in the middle of a love-hate relationship with the general public. Some people love them for their adorable appearance, but the emphasis is on the word some. Considered the “masked bandit” of the animal world, raccoons are notorious for their food thievery, making them considered a nuisance for many people. 

Even though Raccoons may cause an annoyance to the public, they actually provide a number of benefits to the environment. For one, raccoons are expert foragers, and they help to distribute seeds throughout their territory as they search for food. This can help to promote biodiversity by ensuring that new plant life has a chance to take root. So, the next time you see a raccoon rummaging through your trash, remember that these creatures are actually good for the environment.

What do Raccoons Eat?

Raccoons are omnivores who feed off of plants and small animals, including mice. Over time, they have adapted to living near humans; since they often find themselves in urban areas that lack fresh food, these amazing creatures have adapted to become opportunistic eaters. As a result, the traditional raccoon diet consists of seeds, eggs, fruits, and other stuff these little critters often find when rummaging through garbage cans.

Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?

One of the most puzzling things about raccoons is their food cleaning habits, resembling those of a germaphobe. When raccoons find themselves eating near a water source, they have a tendency to dunk their food in the water and roll it around with their paws. In fact, their actual scientific name is Procyon lotor, which literally means the “washing bear”. 

While this may seem like a quirky behavior, it actually helps to spread seeds and fertilize plants. Some scientists believe that raccoons may have played a role in the dispersal of certain plant species across North America.

From dry mouth to a saliva shortage, many have theorized many different reasons for this food-washing habit, but there is only one idea that studies approve of. The answer lies in their paws; more specifically, the nerve endings in their paws. Raccoons wet their food to gather more sensory information, and moistening the food helps raccoons further understand what they are eating.

In contrast to humans, who use eyesight to identify and understand specific things, raccoons rely on their touch to figure out certain information. When a raccoon touches an object, it is able to gather nearly two-thirds of that object’s sensory information. Their paws have four to five times more mechanoreceptors than most other mammals. As a result, raccoons are able to hold, manipulate, and interpret objects on the same level as humans and other intelligent primates.

How Does Water Affect the Raccoon Diet?

In 1986, the journal Somatosensory Research published a study that found wetting a raccoon’s paws dramatically increased their sensitivity. This ultimately increases the receptiveness of the nerve endings in their paws, and as a result, their tactile senses are substantially increased.

Raccoons use water similarly to the way humans use light. When light enters the human eye, the optical nerve response is increased. This makes things easier for humans to see. Similarly, when a raccoon touches water with their paw, its tactile nerves’ responsiveness improves. As a result, they are able to receive more information about their food. This is important because raccoons are known to eat a variety of foods, and some are not always safe. So, when scavenging for food, it is important for them to be able to identify what is and is not safe to eat.

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