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Nature Notebook – Raccoon Food Washing

Raccoon prints are commonly found by water because of their well-known tendency to wash their food…This is another of the many fallacies about nature. Raccoons that raid trash cans or bird feeders don’t seem bothered by the lack of water while they feast away.

If you observe raccoons as they eat, you can see them rolling their food between their paws in a motion that is similar to a human’s hand-washing technique. However, the raccoon is not washing, it is stimulating the nerves in the “palms” of its paws.

These nerves provide the brain with information about their potential meal: the weight, size, texture and temperature. This tactile exploration provides more precise information than that received from their relatively poor visual sense.

If the raccoon is near water, it will examine the object underwater because wet skin increases the responsiveness of the nerves.