Calm, passive raccoons are best adapted to city environments, suggests a study published Thursday.
Researchers studied 204 wild raccoons for two years to see if they could push a button for a reward.
The findings could help inform how wildlife managers manage urban raccoons.
Raccoons are loved and complain about rummaging through the garbage of the city. Now, the researchers say one quality has 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 city of Laramie, Wyoming, luring them with pet food between August 2015 and September 2019.
Over two years of observing, the researchers tested whether raccoons could spot a raccoon-sized cubicle in their neighborhood with two buttons inside it. When pressed, a button released a handful of dog treats. The other did not release anything. Hairy omnivores initially had doubts about the cubicle, the researchers wrote.
After learning how to climb into the cubicle for treats, the researchers changed things by changing which button released the edible reward.
Scientists believe the ability to solve problems in new situations, using reason and thinking, is especially important for urban wildlife, Stanton said in a news release.
After two years, the researchers found that 27 raccoons learned to visit the cubicle and 19 figured out which button was a reward. Of those observed, 17 realized that the reward button had been changed.
Interestingly, when Stanton’s team looked at the animals’ temperament, they found that the less daring raccoons were best prepared to operate the treats delivery mechanism. This “suggests a potential relationship between emotional responsiveness 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 overcome the challenge. This may 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 has become a successful place for raccoons, with many of them climbing and colliding at the same time.
During the observation period, the cubicle’s camera captured other furry visitors, including four striped skunks, like the one in the video above.
Stanton and his team hope his findings will better inform wildlife managers dealing with urban raccoons, as the calmest, not the boldest, may be the ones most likely to cause problems.
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