The Natural Enquirer: A raccoon story, part 1
Many years ago, in the late ’50s and ’60s, part of my job was leading field trips for all sorts of folks. One group that I was occasionally assigned was a handicapped group of kids that were a joy to work with. One method that I used with them was to assemble them on some “high ground” and relax on the ground and talk about the “natural things” that we saw. They seemed especially fond of the stories I was able to tell them. So I thought I would reiterate a few of them through these articles. This one came after a raccoon track was found, and fish entrails were seen by the shoreline.
Father and son were camped here, see the remains of their fire. It was shortly after midnight, when the nearby campfire had become a bed of dim embers, most of the fish entrails had been devoured, principally by crayfish. The two smaller fish carcasses were almost gone, each having been dragged about by immature snapping turtles. As always, there would be no waste in nature. Even now the larger crayfish were continuing to feed on the greatly diminished remains of the large bass when a sudden disturbance in the water to one side caused them to shoot away into deeper water to seek hiding places.
The cause of the disturbance was a large year-old male raccoon wading in the shallows seeking frogs or crayfish or any other edibles. He, too, had now caught scent of the remains, and he sloshed carelessly toward the spot, heedless of the noise he made. For a time he inspected what was left, turning the residue over with his hand-like front paws. There was precious little left to eat of the body meat or entrails, but a fair amount of flesh still clung to the head. With a peculiar daintiness, the raccoon dipped his snout below the water and picked up the head in his teeth, braced his feet against the bare backbone and jerked it free. Jauntily he carried the fish head off into the woods.
Though large for his age, this raccoon was by no means as large as he would one day be. Including his 10-inch ringed tail, he was just under three feet long, and weighed 14 pounds. In another year or two he would measure 40 inches or more and perhaps weigh in excess of 20 pounds. Nevertheless, he was large for his age.
If matters had turned out differently, he would probably now be carrying this morsel to his den as food for a litter of his young. But about a month ago, just before his mate was due to deliver, she had been struck by an auto and killed, and so now he was on his own, and would very likely remain that way until next February, when he would seek another mate.
He carried the head to the nearby hollow tree in which he now made his lair, and there, at the base of it, gnawed contentedly until the flesh was all gone and only the bony superstructure remained. And then, because he still had a measure of the playfulness of a cub in him, he batted the head back and forth in the clearing, sometimes tossing it into the air and catching it, and at other times thrusting it from him and then tearing after it, catching it while it was still bumping along the ground, grappling with it and then rolling over and over while growling fiercely.
At length he grew weary of his game, and carried the remains a short distance into the woods, where he dropped it and continued toward the lake. He emerged on the shore quite near to where he had found the fish, and this time he entered the water stealthily.
He waded slowly through water four or five inches deep, feeling with dexterous front paws under rocks and weed piles. Without any great difficulty he caught two small crayfish, which he crunched greedily between sharp white teeth. A moment later he had hold of a large bullfrog tadpole, but it wriggled out of his grasp an instant after he caught it.
He sniffed about curiously for a little while along the shore, and then his nose led him to the log where the fish had been filleted. In the grass here he found a chunk of the liver of one of the fish, and he wolfed it down. For a long while after that he stared at the little campsite, and then approached it slowly. Two people were stretched out in sleeping bags on either side of the almost dead fire, and the raccoon showed no indication of fear as he ambled up to them.
To be continued….
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives in the Land ‘O Lakes area. To comment on this story, visit the “Outdoors” section of StarJournalNOW.com.