Calm, passive raccoons are better suited to city environments, a study published Thursday suggests.
The researchers studied 204 wild raccoons for two years to test whether they could press a button to get a reward.
The results could help inform how wildlife managers deal with urban raccoons.
Raccoons are loved and lamented for rummaging through city garbage. Now researchers say one quality has allowed certain raccoons to thrive in cities: the calmness with which 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 enticing them with pet food between August 2015 and September 2019.
Over two years of observations, the researchers tested whether raccoons could locate a raccoon-sized cubbyhole in their neighborhood with two buttons inside. When pressed, a button releases a handful of dog treats. The other didn’t say anything. The furry omnivores had initial misgivings about the cubicle, the researchers wrote.
After learning how to climb into the cubby to receive treats, the researchers changed things up by changing the button that released the edible reward.
Scientists believe that the ability to solve problems in new situations, using reason and thought, is particularly important for urban wildlife, Stanton said in a news release.
After two years, the researchers found that 27 raccoons got used to visiting the cubicle and 19 figured out which button was a reward. Of those observed, 17 noticed that the reward button had been changed.
Interestingly, when Stanton’s team looked at the animals’ temperaments, they found that the less fearless raccoons were better equipped to operate the treat-delivery mechanism. That “suggests a possible relationship between emotional reactivity and cognitive ability in raccoons,” Stanton said.
According to the researchers, the younger raccoons seemed more eager to enter and explore the cubicle. But when the researchers changed the buttons, the adult raccoons were better prepared to rise to the challenge. That could be because the young raccoons’ cognitive abilities are less developed, but the sample size was too small to draw any conclusions, the researchers wrote in the study.
The cubicle itself became a lively place for the raccoons, with several of them climbing and bumping into each other simultaneously.
During the observation period, the cubicle camera caught other furry visitors, including four striped skunks, like the one in the video above.
Stanton and his team hope their results can better inform wildlife managers dealing with urban raccoons, since the calmest, not the most fearless, may be the most likely to cause trouble.
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