Scientists estimate there could be 17,000 or more raccoons living within the District, one for every 35 residents, as high a density as any city, anywhere. Raccoon comes from the Algonquian Indian word "arakun" meaning "He who scratches with his hands." They are native only to North America.

THESE MASKED BANDITS eat all sorts of food: fruits, berries, nuts from the trees and shrubs near homes, and they love what they find in trash cans. They also eat small animals, birds, fish, frogs, crawfish, mussels, dog food and birdseed. One favorite food is sweet corn.

THEIR FRONT PAWS look like hands and are very sensitive. They don't really wash their food. They touch and feel everything they eat and water enhances the tactile sensations. They can get into most trash cans and can open doors (including refrigerators) with no trouble. The back paws look like human baby feet except the toes are longer.

RACCOONS are good climbers. They can descend head first or feet first.

RABIES occurs in raccoons, but very rarely do they become aggressive and attack people. A sick animal should be avoided, as should any raccoon active during the day.

THEY MAKE GOOD PETS while young, but turn destructive and aggressive as they mature. They do not imprint on humans and can go back to the wild easily.

RACCOONS ARE HIGHLY INTELLIGENT; scientists rate them as smart as monkeys. They are full of curiosity and have high manual dexterity. A raccoon can beat any dog its size in a fight.

RACCOONS IN THE DISTRICT WEIGH 10 to 20 pounds, their body length is about 30 to 33 inches, males are larger than females, and their life span is 8 to 9 years.

DENS are in hollow trees like maples or poplars. Here they raise their young, one to eight per litter (usually three). They also have learned to live in attics, chimneys and crawl spaces of houses. They are almost exclusively nocturnal, probably because that is the time when humans aren't around.

THE BLACK MASK may be camouflage, or it may make vision better by cutting down on reflected light. No one knows for sure.

Source: National Park Service Center for Urban Ecology; The World of the Raccoon.