Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Hands
Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
- 1 Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
- 2 Raccoon Food-washing Habits: Making Mealtime a Tactile Experience
- 3 Why raccoons wash their food before eating
- 4 Raccoon Eating Habits
- 5 Gripping Food
- 6 Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
- 7 Raccoons and the Myth of Washing Food
- 8 Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Hands?
Raccoon Food-washing Habits: Making Mealtime a Tactile Experience
In the London study that first examined raccoon food-washing habits, the 10 animals «washed» meat more often than plants, but didn’t rinse off dirty earthworms [source: Lyall-Watson]. Even if no water was available, the captive raccoons would move their forepaws in the same way they would if they were actually dousing the food item. To the researchers, this behavior indicated that the raccoons weren’t intentionally cleaning their food before eating.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a useless gesture — removing dirt from their meals is merely a beneficial byproduct of the action. Initially, scientists conjectured that raccoons lacked saliva glands and needed to add moisture, making it easier for them to eat [source: Zeveloff]. Instead, study results have indicated that the behavior enhances the tactile experience involved with eating.
As we mentioned, raccoons have highly dexterous forepaws that resemble hands. Raccoons actually have the same nerve grouping on the hairless parts of their forepaws as primates have, including humans, making them very sensitive to touch. Like primates, they have similar slowly adapting nerves in those hairless, or glabrous, patches [source: Rasmusson and Turnbull]. Slowly adapting nerves are responsive for both moving and stationary skin displacement, communicating to the brain, via the central nervous system, information about the weight, size, texture and temperature of whatever’s come into contact with the forepaws. There are also nerves attached to underfur and longer guard hairs.
In a study examining the slowly adapting nerves in the forepaws of 136 raccoons, researchers found that wetting the skin increases the nerve responsiveness [source: Rasmusson and Turnbull]. Think about what happens when you look through a pair of sunglasses and then quickly take them off. When you remove them, your optical nerve responsiveness will likely increase because more light is flooding into your retinas to illuminate what you’re looking at. Likewise, when raccoons perform their dunking ritual, the water on their paws could excite the nerves in their forepaws. That, in turn, gives them a more vivid tactile experience and provides precise information about what they’re about to eat. This is a beneficial trait since the raccoon’s vision isn’t its keenest sense.
Swimming With the Sharks
Like primates, raccoons employ a combination of sight and touch to reach out and grasp an object (unless, of course, they’re reaching into murky water). However, raccoons often use both hands, rather than one, to grasp, and they exhibit little independent movement of their digits [source: Pubols, Pubols and Munger].
One interesting difference in tactile sense between raccoons and primates is the raccoon’s lack of papillary ridges. The ridges are microstructures in our skin that help us detect friction and create our fingerprints. In the hairless areas of human skin, namely our palms and soles, the ridges are packed with Meissner corpuscles. These individual living cells serve as specialized mechanoreceptors, responding to sensations like pressure or tension. With all of these factors combined, a study observing raccoons’ eating behavior concluded that while their dexterity is specialized, it isn’t as much of an anomaly as the washing behavior implied at first blush [source: Pubols, Pubols and Munger].
From a public relations standpoint, that probably isn’t such a good thing for the raccoon. Previously, the rabies-carrying, food-stealing animal had the distinction of at least washing its food. Now, it looks like those sticky fingers could use a thorough rinsing.
Last editorial update on Sep 17, 2018 04:00:35 pm.
Why raccoons wash their food before eating
Dispelling the myth that raccoons wash their food
The short answer for why raccoons wash their food is, they don’t. Surprised? I sure was! You, like me, have probably always heard about how raccoons like to wash off their meal before they dine. But after noticing that raccoons in captivity go through the same motions with their food regardless of whether or not there is water around, researchers questioned if this was actually a habit based on cleanliness. What they discovered is that the propensity for raccoons to dip food in water actually has little to do with washing it. Instead, it’s all about making their paws more sensitive to touch, so they can take in more information — such as shape and texture — about what they’re about to eat.
Raccoon Eating Habits
Here is how How Stuff Works explains it: «Raccoons actually have the same nerve grouping on the hairless parts of their forepaws as primates have, including humans, making them very sensitive to touch . In a study examining the slowly adapting nerves in the forepaws of 136 raccoons, researchers found that wetting the skin increases the nerve responsiveness. Think about what happens when you look through a pair of sunglasses and then quickly take them off. When you remove them, your optical nerve responsiveness will likely increase because more light is flooding into your retinas to illuminate what you’re looking at. Likewise, when raccoons perform their dunking ritual, the water on their paws could excite the nerves in their forepaws. That, in turn, gives them a more vivid tactile experience and provides precise information about what they’re about to eat. This is a beneficial trait since the raccoon’s vision isn’t its keenest sense.»
In watching raccoons feeding at the edge of a pond, you’ll notice they often look up while moving their forepaws around to search for food, tap-tap-tapping along until they find something that feels like lunch. They’re using their hands to see and find food, rather than their eyes. Rolling their catch around in their paws lets them know just what they’re about to eat. Same goes for when there is no water around at all. While the action looks like washing, it’s more about getting a good enough grip on their catch and figuring out the best way to get their meal into their mouth.
If you’re worried about this ruining your perception of raccoons as cute little bandits that steal food from trash bins and backyards then wash it before eating, don’t worry — they’re still cute little bandits that steal food from trash bins and backyards.
Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
If the McDonald’s Hamburglar had a spirit animal, it would be the raccoon. This masked bandit of the animal world is notorious for its food thievery. Omnivorous raccoons eat plants and small animals, such as mice, and have adapted to living near humans. In the wild, they’ll dine on plants, nuts and fruits; in urban areas, they’ll sniff and steal food out of your garbage can, pilfer pet food and grab fish from backyard ponds. Have you ever taken the trash out at night, only to find it strewn across your yard the next morning? It could be the handiwork of nocturnal raccoons. In a study of corn crop plundering by wild animals, Purdue University researchers found that raccoons were responsible for 87 percent of the 73,000 damaged plants [source: MacGowan et al.].
What makes raccoons so good at snatching food? Check out their forepaws. Raccoons’ forepaws, each with five fingers, are surprisingly dexterous. They can easily grasp, hold and manipulate objects in their forepaws, similar to primates. While raccoons’ flexible forepaws help them with food procurement and tree climbing, the animals don’t display any sort of traits related to tool use like primates. Nevertheless, raccoons’ manual adroitness is so well-developed that scientists have conducted a surprising number of studies to determine how and why the trait exists.
One of the most puzzling things raccoons do with their nimble paws makes them seem like germophobes: Whenever they eat near a water source, apparently raccoons wash food by dunking it in water and rolling it around in their paws. In fact, their scientific name, Procyon lotor, literally means «washing bear.» Yet food-washing isn’t a natural habit among animals, which led researchers at the London Zoo in 1961 to look into whether these raccoons — known to carry rabies and roundworm — really are as sanitary as they act.
Raccoons and the Myth of Washing Food
Raccoons are highly intelligent and curious creatures, and these qualities have helped raccoons thrive in both wild and urban habitats. This intelligence and curiosity combined with a pair of highly dexterous hands also means that raccoons cause a lot of mischief in their search for food, and often find ways into houses, campers and coolers. The occasional banditry aside, the hands of a raccoon are incredible appendages and shape how raccoons interact with the world. The hands of a raccoon have many times more touch receptors than their feet and a lot of the processing space in a raccoon brain is dedicated to their hands. They often to use their hands to “see” in situations like foraging underwater, feeling under overhangs, and moving in the dark.
The fact that raccoons use their hands as both tools and as one of their most important sense organs has led to the myth that raccoons wash their food. Raccoons in captivity have been observed “washing” their food, which is actually repeated dipping and rolling of food items in water. This behavior has led to a widespread belief that raccoons wash their food before eating or that they need to soften their food. This behavior is not really washing and food preparation but an outlet for a raccoon’s constant need to use their hand to sense the world and look for food. In the wild raccoons are constantly dabbling in water and searching in nooks and crannies, and in the captivity this behavior finds an outlet in food “washing”. Some biologists have described the behavior more as feeling than washing, and this description is supported by the fact that raccoons often rub and roll their food even in dry enclosures and rub their hands together even when they are not holding anything.
The food washing myth has persisted because in the wild raccoons are constantly foraging in water and rolling and handling their prey, which often looks like they are washing their food. Raccoons do not have a very good grip because of the lack of opposable thumbs, and so they often hold items with two hands and frequently roll objects between their hands. If this behavior happens near water it also looks like washing.
The truth is that raccoons in the wild do not really wash their food in any way that we as humans think of washing. They constantly forage in the water and will often roll food items in their hands, but they are actually looking for food and working to get it into their mouth with much less concern about how clean it may be.
To learn more about raccoons see:
Elbroch, Mark and Kurt Rinehart. Behavior of North American Mammals. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. 374 pgs.
Lotze, J.-H. and S. Anderson. 1979. Procyon lotor. Mammalian Species 119:1-8.
Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Hands?
Various raccoon repellents have proved to offer amazing results in chasing away these annoying creatures and we wrote an entire article about them – you should check it out . Moreover, these little creatures can also be very destructive which means that they can cause some serious damage to your property.
Also, raccoons may seem adorable and harmless animals, but you shouldnвЂ™t let yourself fooled by their cute appearance as you might end up very disappointed. They are cute, nobody denies it, but they can become aggressive at times if they feel threatened. What they really want is to find food and they can tear your yard apart while looking for it.
But, besides their common behavior that many of us are aware of, these small animals are also very interesting in one way – they have been surprised washing their hands and their food before eating it. Weird and hard to believe, right? Well, the truth is that people have different opinions regarding this aspect, but letвЂ™s find out more.
Myth or reality
We do it all the time, so why is it so hard for us to believe that raccoons wash their hands or food before they eat? They are entitled to be as clean and as thorough as possible with their food, as we all know that food contamination is a big thing. But, is this the reason why raccoons dampen their hands and food in the water; is it because they want to be very clean?
The answers to these questions are not very precise, as many people have various opinions, and while others accept the fact that they just behave like humans, others donвЂ™t really want to see things this way. The important aspect is that the reason for this unique behavior is still unknown, which means that people can keep their own opinions.
It all started when this furry mammal was noticed to refuse to eat just because there was no water around. It does happen for them sometimes to accept to ingest their food without washing it, but they are not very happy about it. Moreover, you should know that this behavior doesnвЂ™t apply to all species of raccoons.
There are some types of raccoons that donвЂ™t really mind eating the food without washing it; they actually donвЂ™t wash it all, they just eat it as is. They can be compared with humans on this matter as there are so many people who are very confident to eat their food without feeling the need to wash it. Also, when it comes to washing their hands, the situation is very similar.
Raccoons and their unconventional behavior
Raccoons are wild animals that can seem very nice at first sight, but as soon as they will show their true selves to you, the chances are that you will not be very happy. They are not only able to cause significant damages by destroying your garden or tearing through your trash bags, but these annoying little creatures are also disease carriers putting your health at risk.
You can also distinguish raccoons from other animals that look very similar by the light and dark circles around their tail. They love to act in the dark, and that is why you will not see one during the day. But, in the wild, these animals (some of them, at least), love to refresh their hands and food with water, and we believe that this behavior has nothing to do with cleanliness.
First of all, the water they use to вЂњwashвЂќ their food is not very clean which makes us think that if they were as clean as their behavior suggests, they might have preferred clean water, only. Moreover, they catch the food in the water and then they decide to still wash it; even if it came from the water! This makes us assume that they might have a certain preference for wet food.
Also, it is important to mention that the food they eat is usually found in muddy waters which makes us wonder once again why they need to water their food before they eat it. Their primary diet consists of fish, frogs, crayfish, and clams – they catch these during the night. Other foods that they enjoy eating consist of nuts, fruits, berries, and young sheaves of corn.
The real reason behind
As we have already mentioned, raccoons do not choose to wash their hands before they eat just because they were taught by their parents or because they want to avoid getting sick. The main reason behind this unique behavior is the fact they are dependent on their hands. This means, that they can use their hands to feel certain things better.
The same goes for their food – they want to feel the texture better, and that is why they dip their hands and food into the water. Moreover, these clever little animals will even rub their food very well into their hands before dumping it again. What seems like a raccoon washing his/her hands before eating, it is actually a sign of how important their hands are to them.
They have been observed having this behavior even when they had no water around, they will do it in the air. This tells us a lot, at least we can agree that they donвЂ™t see this action as a way of becoming cleaner. Moreover, when they are in the cities, the same raccoons that вЂњwashedвЂќ their hands and food before eating, will trash garbage cans for food.
We think that if they were so worried about being clean, they would refuse to perform this action without water. Furthermore, trash cans are quite messy, we can all agree, so they wouldnвЂ™t choose to fish for food in those kinds of places. However, raccoons are clean animals, but the story with washing their hands before they eat is a bit too much for us to believe.
They live in places where there is water
Raccoons prefer to live in places where they can have access to water and trees and their home is usually in a hollow limb or the trunk of a tree. Also, when they are in places where there is no water around, they will still mimic that they are washing their food and their hands.
It is believed that they do this because they are very good with their hands – they depend on their hands for most of their daily activities. Furthermore, they use their hands so well that they can be compared to primate hands in terms of dexterity.
You might be amazed to find out that they make such good use of their hands since they donвЂ™t have opposable thumbs, but believe it or not, they have managed to compensate their poor eyesight with the tactile advantage offered by the superior use of their hands.
Being able to coordinate their hands so well, offers them the chance to feel certain things better than other mammals. Moreover, by watering their hands all the time, what they actually do is to make them more sensitive so that they can feel more. This is super smart, and they should definitely be given credit for that.