Raccoons get assigned a lot of traits by people because of their appearance and behaviors. We call them “little bandits” because of the mask appearance around their eyes and their habit of foraging in our garbage. They are frequently considered clever because of their dexterous paws and ingenuity at thwarting attempts to keep them away from trash… but how intelligent are raccoons?
Clever, Crafty, or Something More?
According to a variety of studies, raccoons are very intelligent. Vanderbilt University researchers found that raccoons have an average of 438 million neurons in a relatively small brain, which places them on the higher end of the mammal intelligence scale. The researchers noted that, if judged solely by brain size and number of neurons, raccoons would be ranked among small primates.
But the number of neurons is not the only measure of intelligence. Researchers also performed problem-solving tests to measure animal intelligence. A common test (known as the “Aesop test”) involves floating food – marshmallows in the case of raccoons – in a water-filled container but with the water level too low for them to reach the marshmallows.
Researchers then add stones to raise the water level and watch to see if the animal understands and replicates the action. Not only did raccoons grasp and use that method to get the marshmallows, but they also tried a more straightforward method – they pushed over the container spilling out its contents, including the marshmallows, which is a solution that other animals did not try.
Are Raccoons Smarter Than Dogs?
Yes, despite having slightly fewer neurons than dogs (which have about 530 neurons), raccoons show more ingenuity at problem solving. Tests performed in 1913 by Walter Hunter showed that raccoons were much better at memory tests and remembered them for much longer than dogs did.
In fact, raccoons used to be common participants in animal intelligence tests until their tendency to break out made it impractical. One raccoon – named Melanie – was trained to dance, sweep the floor, and ride a bicycle… which is considered toddler-level intelligence!
How Smart Are Wild Raccoons?
Raccoons in the wild are just as intelligent as those that have been tamed. Raccoons are not considered “domesticated” because that is a long process over generations of building trust in and dependence on humans. Instead, raccoons that live compatibly with people or in captivity are considered tame. Either way, wild and tame raccoons show the same level of intelligence.
Why Do Raccoons ‘Wash’ Their Food?
You have probably seen the viral video of the sad raccoon confused after washing cotton candy. The common assumption used to be that raccoons washed their food for sanitary reasons. Further study has debunked that because they are more inclined to wash meat than plants and don’t tend to clean earthworms from food before eating.
Instead, washing food improves their ability to feel the food, which makes it easier for raccoons to determine if something is edible. They will actually make the same gestures even if water is not available.
Let Arrow’s Experts Handle Raccoons
The best way to deal with a raccoon is to call in the professionals at Arrow. If you have a raccoon problem or are concerned about them this winter, let us help you get back to living in a critter-free environment. To get started, contact Arrow Exterminating today.