Last weekend while driving along a country road at night I saw my first live wild raccoon. Usually I just see them dead on highways. Raccoons are more active at night, which explains why I had never seen them, and why they often end up as roadkill.

Raccoons’ only other relative in the Americas is the coatimundi, which lives in Central America. Red pandas are also related to raccoons, but they live in Asia. You can see red pandas at ZooMontana.

Raccoons eat all kinds of food, from mice to fish, frogs and insects. That’s one reason they do so well in cities and towns where they can raid garbage cans for food. Even in big cities, like New York, raccoons can make a living.

Last year The New York Times did a story about raccoons causing more problems. One woman said raccoons in her yard were beating up her cat. “It was like a frat party. They were insane,” she told the paper.

Raccoons typically live only two to three years in the wild. In that short time, though, they can grow up to 20 pounds or more. A group of raccoons is called a nursery. Females, which are called sows, will give birth to up to five babies, called kits. Males are called boars. This naming is similar to bears, to which scientists first thought raccoons were related.

Raccoons supposedly got their name from the Powhatan Indians, who called them “animal that scratches with its hands,” according to PBS’s website. That’s one of the raccoon’s most well-known abilities — using its paws like little hands.

With their mask-like faces, raccoons have a unique look. It’s thought that the black mask may help cut glare to help them see at night. Scientists recently figured out that an ancient animal that lived millions of years ago in what is now China also had a mask, similar to raccoons.

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