Calm, passive raccoons are better adapted to urban environments, according to a study published Thursday.
Researchers studied 204 wild raccoons for two years to test if they could push a button for a reward.
The results could help guide how wildlife managers deal with urban raccoons.
Raccoons are loved and mourned for rummaging through the city’s trash. Now, researchers say one quality allowed some raccoons to thrive in cities: how calmly they responded to new situations.
In a study published Thursday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers explored just how adaptable these mischievous mammals are. The research team, led by Lauren Stanton of the University of California, Berkeley, tagged 204 wild raccoons living in the town of Laramie, Wyoming, by luring them with pet food between August 2015 and September 2019.
Over two years of observations, the researchers tested whether raccoons were able to locate a raccoon-sized chamber in their neighborhood with two buttons in it. When pressed, a button released a handful of dog treats. The other released nothing. The furry omnivores had initial misgivings about the chamber, the researchers wrote.
After they learned to climb into the cabin for treats, the researchers changed things up by changing the button that releases the edible reward.
Scientists believe that the ability to solve problems in novel situations, using logic and thought, is especially important for urban wildlife, Stanton said in a news release.
After two years, the researchers found that 27 raccoons had the trick to visit the cabin and 19 knew which button was a reward. Of those observed, 17 realized that the reward button had changed.
Interestingly, when Stanton’s team observed the animals’ temperament, they found that the less adventurous raccoons were better prepared to operate the treat-delivery mechanism. This “suggests a possible link between emotional reactivity and cognition in raccoons,” Stanton said.
According to the researchers, the younger raccoons seemed more willing to enter and explore the chamber. But when the researchers switched the buttons, the adult raccoons were better prepared to overcome the challenge. This could be because the cognitive abilities of young raccoons are less developed, but the sample size was too small to draw any conclusions, the researchers wrote in the study.
The cabin itself became a hotspot for the raccoons, with many of them climbing and knocking at each other.
Throughout the observation period, the booth camera captured other furry visitors, including four striped skunks, like the one in the video above.
Stanton and her team hope her results can better inform wildlife managers dealing with urban raccoons, since the calmest — not the boldest — may be the most likely to cause trouble.
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