Why Does A Raccoon Wash Its Food Joke
Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
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.
Q: What do you call an Raccoon with a carrot in each ear?
A: Anything you want as he can’t hear you!
Q: What did the grape say when the Raccoon stood on it?
A: Nothing, it just let out a little wine!
Q: Why did the Raccoon cross the road?
A: To prove to the possum that it could be done!
Q: What kind of car does a raccoon drive?
A: A Furrari.
Q: When does a Raccoon go «moo»?
A: When it is learning a new language!
Q: Why did the racoon sleep under the car?
A: Because he wanted to wake up oily
Q: What do you call a Raccoon that can pick up an elephant ?
A guy brings a raccoon home , tells his wife it’s a pet.
She asks , «Where are you going to keep it?»
He repies , «In the bedroom.»
«But what about that horrible nasty smell?’ , she asks.
«I got used to you , I’m sure he will too!»
The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range.
Three weeks later, a raccoon walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth.
The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes.
He took the precious book out of the raccoon’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, «It’s a miracle!»
«Not really,» said the raccoon. «Your name is written inside the cover.»
Nasty Little Boy
A policeman caught a nasty little boy with a bb gun in one hand and a raccoon in the other.
«Now Listen here,» the policeman said,
«Whatever you do to that poor, defenseless creature I shall personally do to you»
«In that case,» said the boy.
«I’ll kiss it’s butt and let it go»
Night of Drinking
A man and his pet raccoon walk into a bar. It’s about 5pm, but they’re ready for a good night of drinking.
They start off slowly, watching TV, drinking beer, eating peanuts. As the night goes on they move to mixed drinks, and then shooters, one after the other.
Finally, the bartender says: «Last call.»
So, the man says, «One more for me. and one more for my raccoon.»
The bartender sets them up and they shoot them back. Suddenly, the raccoon falls over dead.
The man throws some money on the bar, puts on his coat and starts to leave.
The bartender, yells: «Hey buddy, you can’t just leave that lyin’ there.»
To which the man replies: «That’s not a lion, that’s a raccoon.»
A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a raccoon sitting next to him.
«Are you a raccoon?» asked the man, surprised.
«What are you doing at the movies?»
The raccoon replied, «Well, I liked the book.»
Funny raccoon jokes
I decided to make some jokes about raccoons because I like raccoons and they’re funny animals. So I sat down and wrote a blog post about them, putting a lot of thought into each joke and explaining why some of the more complicated jokes are funny, just in case you don’t get them. Here they are:
Q: Why did the raccoon cross the street?
A: To get to Fred Meyers to buy some dish detergent. (Because raccoons like to wash their food. Although, it’s actually a myth that they’re washing it; they’re really just softening it to make it easier to eat).
Q: Why did the raccoon buy Sensodyne toothpaste?
A: Because apparently raccoons have really sensitive teeth.
Q: What’s a raccoon’s favorite color?
A: Raccoons are colorblind.
Q: How big does an average adult raccoon weigh?
A: 8-20 pounds
A raccoon walks into a bar. Bar tender says, “Don’t shoot I’ll give you the money!” (This is funny because raccoons have bandit masks across their eyes, which make them look like robbers. And the bar tender thought the raccoon was going to rob him. But really the raccoon just wanted to order a drink).
One time I fed a raccoon a bunch of hot dogs.
Q: How many limbs does a raccoon have?
A: Between zero and four. But usually four.
Q: Why did the raccoon remember the Alamos?
A: Because Davy Crocket had a coon skin hat.
Raccoons are omnivores and subside on both meat, plant-based food, and redundancy.
Q: Why don’t raccoons brush their teeth?
A: Because it would look like they had rabies. (This is funny because people often associate rabies with raccoons, possibly because both words start with the letter R).
Q: How many rabid raccoons does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Two. One to screw in the light bulb and one to *also screw in the light bulb.*
*edited for content
And there you have it: what I did this morning instead of going on a bike ride. Now it’s mid afternoon.
Here’s a picture of a raccoon so you have something to look at while you laugh at all my great raccoon jokes.
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.