Animals and their quirks have long been a mystery to us humans. Every pet owner, myself included, can rattle off a list of strange behaviors from their pet that they’ve given up on solving. Why does my dog stand by the porch door when he wants to go for a walk, and the front door when he wants to sit on the porch? The world may never know. Aside from these individual idiosyncrasies, however, the animal kingdom is full of species that consistently puzzle the average person, even as the experts piece the clues together.
One animal whose behavior often raises such questions is the common raccoon. These masked bandits are well known for their adorable antics, love of trash, and the quirky way they handle their food. As those who commonly interact with raccoons know, they love to dunk potential snacks in water before eating. But why? It’s such a consistently observable behavior, and one that has defied explanation for decades.
In the past, scientists theorized that raccoons couldn’t produce saliva, which would help them break down dry foods, and needed to soak what they wanted to easily digest. Many folks commonly believed that this was some kind of “washing” process as well. Both of these guesses, however, have been proven wrong over time. Other studies have focused on how raccoons perceive the world through their senses, and the results have been illuminating!
Article continues below
Our Featured Programs
See how we’re making a difference for People, Pets, and the Planet and how you can get involved!
Raccoons have excellent low-light vision and hearing, as anyone who’s caught one rummaging in the middle of the night will tell you. More limited, however, is the color and clarity of their vision. Far away objects are likely very blurry to them, and scientists theorize that they are either color blind or poor at distinguishing colors. Their sense of touch, however, is extraordinary, and holds the key to explaining why they prefer to douse their meals in water.
As explained in an article by Anderson Wildlife Control, a raccoon’s sense of touch thrives on water in the way that a human’s eyesight thrives on light. As they soak their pads (and their snack) in water, (the technical name for the process is “dousing”) “it improves tactile nerve responsiveness and provides more information about food.” Not only do their pads become more sensitive, the water helps them gather data about their food’s texture, potential ingredients, and more. Because raccoons love a good deep dive into trash cans, this is an important adaptation for their survival! With the mountain of information that their sensitive paws give them, a raccoon is able to distinguish between a tasty treat and something that’s best left alone.
Check out the video below for more information on raccoons and video of the “dousing process!”
Help Rescue Animals
Provide food and vital supplies to shelter pets at The Animal Rescue Site for free! →