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I have seen a lot of different animals over the 40 years I have hiked and hunted in the mountains of central Montana where my grandmother grew up. Until last year, though, I had never seen a black bear — although I often found their poop. And until earlier this month I had never seen a raccoon.

In fact, I had just said to my friend that very day that I had never seen a raccoon, and then as we were driving down the road we spotted one walking through a field. Its back was humped, like it had a bad bellyache, but didn’t seem to be bothered by us humans. Turns out, that’s how raccoons look when they are walking, kind of hunched.

Raccoons, like coyotes, are very adaptable animals. They can live in cities, eating garbage and pet food. They can also become pests by breaking into homes and living in attics or crawl spaces.

In the wild, raccoons tend to prefer to eat animals that live in the water, like crayfish and frogs. That’s why a lot of times you see photos or video of them appearing to wash their front paws. Raccoons will also eat bugs, bird eggs and small mammals like mice.

A raccoons’ paws have five long toes that are very good at grasping, not only food but also for climbing trees and breaking into coolers or picnic baskets. Their tracks in the mud almost look like little hands.

Raccoons resemble masked robbers, with black fur around their eyes that add to their reputation as troublemakers. That reputation is also because they are active mostly at night, which probably explains why I never saw one. The rest of their fur is mostly gray, except for their tail, which has alternating black and gray rings.

Most raccoons die when they are young, but those that survive can live into their teens.

The word raccoon comes from an East Coast Indian tribe’s name for the animals: the Algonquian or Powhatan name was “aroughcoune,” which roughly translates to “he scratches with his hands.”

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