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A Charming Rascal

Raccoons often conjure up images of masked nocturnal bandits tipping over garbage bins, threatening family pets or harboring rabies. Perhaps we should instead think of these creatures as survivors and adapters.

Everyone has seen a raccoon, easily identified by its black mask, humpbacked gait-caused by its hind legs being considerably longer than its forelegs-bushy, ringed tail and bold curiosity. Native to the New World, though smaller in Florida than the North, the common raccoon) is nocturnal and solitary unless it's caring for its young. Many raccoons carry rabies, a deadly virus that thrives in their saliva, but it is rarely transferred to humans or even pets. In the final stages of the disease, animals become disoriented, staggering like drunks, or get aggressive, even in broad daylight. Steer clear and call Animal Control.

Raccoons usually walk, but they can run, albeit with a lurching gait. They also climb trees and swim. Omnivorous, they eat fruits, nuts, bugs, fish, eggs and whatever small birds and mammals they can catch in the wild.

As we have moved into their woods and meadows with our houses and roads and shopping centers, many raccoons have moved, too, from hollow logs and shallow burrows to spaces under trailer homes, swimming pool enclosures, or any secluded, den-like spaces around buildings. As a result, their hunt for food has all too often led them to garbage cans, where their long-clawed, nimble, hand-like front paws have earned them many unprintable epithets. If you run them off, leave lots of ground, for they are furious fighters and can overpower even a large dog.

We hate them and we love them, but either way, like naughty boys, they will usually get what they want.

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