Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving, so a story combining raccoons and turkey seems appropriate. Much more so than some recipe for roasted raccoon for Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway, it turns out that paleontology delivered up just the right thing for the season! The gist of it is that once upon a time, roughly 126 million years ago, there were critters called sinosauropteryx. Roughly the size of a modern turkey, about four feet in length and weighing a dozen pounds, these animals were covered in a frizzy coat of feathers that featured a ringed tale and masked eyes. Of course, evolutionary speaking, dinosaurs became modern birds, so this creature would have no relation to the lovable modern mammals. That being the case, the similar characteristics are examples of convergent evolution. The striping is a means of disrupting predators’ ability to perceive the animals in grassy areas and the “mask” is to reduce glare. Interestingly, they were able to determine these characteristics because the darker feathers were actually preserved in the fossil record, due to the extra melanin they contained. The first fossils of these animals were found in 1996, which strikes me as weird because the revelation that dinosaurs were feathered seemed like a more recent development to me.
Recently in Colorado Springs, CO, a raccoon hitched a ride on a police van as it was speeding to respond to an accident. It’s unclear how he got there, apparently leaping onto the windshield from out of nowhere. Did he fall on from a tree limb above? Jump from the side of the road at the windshield? Materialize out of thin air using arcane woodland powers? The driver had to pull over to let the raccoon scramble off before proceeding to location of the crash, but not before snapping a couple of pictures of, one would imagine, a very terrified little critter splatted against the glass. (In all fairness, the pictures was probably taken automatically by a dashcam.) However, since raccoons are commonly considered bandits, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little racial … er … species? profiling going on. Although leaping at a police vehicle in transit is a little sketchy.
Raccoons made a splash in the news last week as the University of Wyoming’s Department of Zoology and Physiology released the results of a recent series of intelligence tests they conducted on raccoons. The tests were modeled after the Aesop’s Fable of the Crow and the Pitcher. These tests have been performed on other animals with the purpose of identifying if they can understand the cause-and-effect of water displacement in order to obtain a prize (food.) In this case, marshmallows (which float) were place a in long, vertical tube of water and the raccoons were left to their own devices to figure out to use various objects provided to them to place them in the tube to raise the treats to within arm’s length.
Sadly, the raccoons didn’t fare too well. Only two of the seven raccoons succeeded in performing the test in the desired method. I’m particularly fond of the fact that a third raccoon got the marshmallows, but did it by knocking over the tube. I think that one deserves credit for thinking outside the box!
The scientists are optimistic about future tests. They don’t think the low success rate was due to a lack of cognitive ability, so much as the fact raccoons are so exploratory and easily distracted. The term “herding cats” comes to mind.
It’s International Raccoon Appreciation Day! That’s a day that’s barely recognized, but unlike a national day it’s barely recognized in even more places. It also strikes me as a little bizarre how it’s an International day, even though the raccoon is native to North America. I suppose as long as Canada and Mexico recognize it, it’s still international. Native or not, though, the raccoon has managed to spread around the world, with (invasive) populations in Asia (mostly Japan) and Europe (ranging into Russia.) It’s good to know that the rest of the world, should it so choose, can be exposed to the cuteness of raccoons. Although I’m sure many would prefer not to be.
The Geauga County Fair (“geauga” being the Seneca word for “raccoon”) may be Ohio’s oldest county fair, but it’s otherwise not particularly well known. This year’s festivities, however, made national news as a raccoon (based on the pawprints left atop cakes) broke into the fairgrounds on August 31 and made a meal of seven of the elven best in show baked goods nominees out of about 1,500 baked goods products the animal had to choose from.
You can watch some hard hitting reporting on the burglary from Inside Edition below:
In response, the fair organizers put up wanted posters, although in an example of species profiling they used a generic picture of a raccoon versus one of the particular bandit(s) who engaged in the theft.