Raccoons are easily recognizable by their mask-like face markings. But their paws are just as unique and set them apart from other wildlife.
Raccoons excel at opening simple containers, but do they use thumbs to do so?
Raccoons have five toes or fingers on each paw, but they do not have thumbs. However, their digits are flexible enough to allow them to manipulate food and other objects with ease. Their paws are also very sensitive, and they use their sense of touch as a primary investigative tool.
Five Fingers, But No Thumbs
Raccoons’ paws are very similar to human hands. They use them to feel around almost constantly and they’re very dexterous.
Each paw has five long, tapered fingers (or toes) with a long claw at the end. Even though they have the same number of digits as a human, they technically do not have opposable thumbs.
However, each of the fingers is very flexible. Raccoons will hold their forepaws together to grasp and manipulate objects and food.
Their hind paws are also dexterous and useful. Raccoons are excellent climbers, utilizing the flexibility of their paws to climb up and down trees. They can even climb down a tree headfirst with ease.
Raccoon Paws Are Very Sensitive
Raccoons process two-thirds of incoming sensory data through their paws. Touch is as important to them as sight, hearing, or smell.
Each of the fingers on the forepaws of a raccoon has thick padding. In this padding are cells called mechanoreceptors. These cells are what detect physical and mechanical stimuli, like a change in pressure.
Raccoons have four to five times more of these mechanoreceptors than most mammals. The only other mammals that come close are humans and other primates.
Because raccoons rely so much on their sense of touch, they are constantly using their forepaws to investigate their surroundings.
They will pick up all sorts of objects and roll them around in their hands. They’ll often rub their hands together even if they don’t have anything in them.
How Raccoons Find Food
Raccoons are omnivorous mammals, meaning they’ll eat other animals as well as fruit and plants.
They’re also opportunistic feeders. They forage for various nuts, eat carrion, and are known to raid garbage cans and chicken coops.
Their fingers come in handy for these types of feeding activities. Raccoons can use their paws to open trash cans, coolers, and any other containers that aren’t closed properly.
But it’s not only their physical attributes that make raccoons a nuisance to human food and trash storage.
Raccoons are intelligent animals, even more so than cats. They can solve complex problems and have great memories.
Studies have shown they can remember how to solve a problem for up to three years without any assistance.
There are limits to their abilities, of course.
Similar to bears, there are certain types of containers raccoons have difficulty accessing. Raccoon-proof containers consist of wooden boxes with simple sliding barrel locks.
Nature parks and camp sites will often use these boxes to allow campers to store their food.
Whether it’s because the two-step lock is just beyond a raccoon’s comprehension or they lack opposable thumbs, raccoons can be stumped by these simple boxes.
Do Raccoons Wash Their Food?
A common misconception about raccoons is that they like to wash their food.
It is true that raccoons will dip and roll their food in water before eating it. However, this is not a hygienic process, but an investigative one.
Animal researchers believe that a raccoon’s already sensitive forepaws are even more sensitive when wet.
By dipping objects in water and rolling them between their paws, raccoons get an even better sense of what it is they’re handling.
This can also help them identify if there are any foreign objects in their food before they eat it.
Raccoons are intelligent animals that will eat food where they can find it. Part of what makes them such good foragers is their paws.
Though they don’t have opposable thumbs, raccoons do have five toes or fingers that are very flexible and sensitive. They use their keen sense of touch almost as much as they use their sight.
Their paws are even more sensitive when wet, which is why people think raccoons wash their food. What they’re actually doing is using the water to help them investigate various objects and food.
They may not have thumbs, but raccoons have adapted their paws and digits in other ways to help them survive.