The raccoon is a medium-size woods mammal with the scientific name Procyon lotor. Procyon means “before dog,” implying the raccoon is less advanced than the dog from an evolutionary standpoint; lotor refers to the species’ habit of dunking food in water before consumption. The common names “raccoon” and “coon” are anglicized versions of the Indian word “arocoun.” It’s fitting that the common names evolved from a Native American word, as the raccoon is strictly a New World animal, found in North and Central America.
Raccoons are adaptable, and many types of terrain provide suitable areas for them to live. As a rule, they prefer forested areas offering plenty of den sites. They favor hardwood over coniferous forests, because hardwoods provide more food (nuts, fruits) and are more apt to develop cavities and hollow limbs suitable for shelter. Swamps and fertile bottomlands are good habitat; raccoons often thrive near water courses, where good hunting opportunities exist. A raccoon will wade up a small spring run in search of crayfish, aquatic insects, minnows and other food. The Game Commission has never had to improve habitat specifically for the raccoon because the species manages well on its own. In managing forests on state game lands, however, the Commission tries to protect mature hardwoods, which are used as den trees by raccoons and many other wildlife species.