Free Standing Raccoon with Plastic Teeth
Raccoon. Two free standing specimens with plastic teeth.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor), also known as the common raccoon, North American raccoon, northern raccoon is a medium-sized mammal native to North America. In colloquial shorthand it is also known as the "coon". As a result of escapes and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century, raccoons are now also distributed across the European mainland, the Caucasus region and Japan. Their original habitats are deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and even urban areas, where some homeowners consider them pests.
Origin of the Name
The word raccoon was adopted into English from the native Powhatan term, as used in the Virginia Colony. It was recorded on Captain John Smith's list of Powhatan words as Aroughcun, and on that of William Strachey as Arathkone. It has also been identified as a Proto-Algonquian root *ahrah-koon-em, meaning "[the] one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands".
Similarly, Spanish colonists adopted the Spanish word mapache from the Nahuatl mapachitli of the Aztecs, meaning "[the] one who takes everything in its hands". In many languages, the raccoon is named for its characteristic dousing behavior in conjunction with that language's term for bear, for example Waschbär in German, orsetto lavatore in Italian and araiguma (アライグマ) in Japanese. In French, the washing behavior is combined with that language's term for rat, or raton laveur.
The colloquial abbreviation coon is used in words like coonskin for fur clothing and in phrases like old coon as a self-designation of trappers. However, the clipped form is also in use as an ethnic slur. The raccoon's scientific name, Procyon lotor, is neo-Latin, meaning "before-dog washer," with lotor Latin for "washer" and Procyon Latinized Greek from προ-, "before," and κύων, "dog."
In the first decades after its discovery by the members of the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who was the first person to leave a written record about the species, taxonomists thought the raccoon was related to many different species, including dogs, cats, badgers and particularly bears. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, placed the raccoon in the genus Ursus, first as Ursus cauda elongata ("long-tailed bear") in the second edition of his Systema Naturae, then as Ursus Lotor ("washer bear") in the tenth edition. In 1780, Gottlieb Conrad Christian Storr placed the raccoon in its own genus Procyon, which can be translated either to "before the dog" or "doglike".