Are Raccoons Clever?

While wandering through the forest, we came across a conversation among a group of animals:

Opossum: I thought we had all agreed to ask the people at the cabin for food.

Badger: That’s what we’re doing! We’re not going to break into the cabin and steal food.

Opossum: Then why is he wearing a mask?

Badger: Who? The raccoon? That’s just his face!

Raccoon: Yeah, I always look like a burglar. You should see the reactions I get at the bank.

Opossum: I bet! Well, maybe you should stay at the edge of the woods while we ring the doorbell.

We couldn’t stay to see if the animals were successful in persuading the people in the cabin to give them food. We did feel sorry for the raccoon, though. It must be tough to always look like you’re wearing a mask.

Unfortunately, if you’ve ever lived near raccoons, you know that they often live up to their burglar-like appearance. Raccoons are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and animals.

People familiar with raccoons know they’ll eat almost anything. In the wild, their diet consists of a wide range of fruits, berries, nuts, plants, insects, frogs, crayfish, and rodents.

In urban areas, raccoons are attracted to garbage cans and will eat whatever they find in the trash. Raccoons can become a nuisance if garbage is easily accessible. Their behavior has led many cities to search — usually unsuccessfully — for raccoon-proof garbage can lids.

Why are raccoons so skilled at getting into trash? They have small hands with agile fingers that can manipulate various locks, latches, and levers. They are also known for their cleverness.

Scientists who studied raccoon intelligence in the mid-20th century found that the raccoons in their study could remember solutions to tasks they were given for up to 3 years. This is quite impressive for an animal whose average lifespan in the wild is two to three years.

More recently, scientists conducted a test on a group of raccoons to see how they would perform on the Aesop’s Fable test. This test is based on an old fable in which a crow can’t drink from a pitcher because the water level is too low. The clever crow drops stones into the pitcher to raise the water level and be able to drink.

In the Aesop’s Fable test, the raccoons were tested to determine if they could recognize cause and effect by displacing water to access food. They were given cylinders with marshmallows floating on top of water, but the marshmallows were too low to reach.

The researchers showed the raccoons how dropping stones into the water raised the level. Would they repeat the behavior? Two out of the eight raccoons in the study did indeed repeat the behavior.

Does this mean raccoons are not as intelligent as we thought? Not at all! Several other raccoons demonstrated their resourcefulness and surprised the researchers with their problem-solving abilities.

Several of the raccoons clambered onto the cylinder and swayed it back and forth until it toppled over, granting them access to the treats inside. Others utilized floating balls to gather pieces of marshmallow for consumption.

Although the raccoons didn’t breeze through the test like the few other animals known to pass it (including crows and great apes), they demonstrated creative approaches that indicate a high level of intelligence. It’s no surprise they can infiltrate almost any trash can!

Give It a Try

Are you prepared to discover more about raccoons? Enlist the assistance of a friend or family member to explore the following activities:

  • Watch National Geographic’s Raccoon video online. Have you ever spotted raccoons near your residence? Discuss with friends and family members about their encounters with raccoons. Do you know anyone who has had issues with a raccoon rummaging through their household trash?
  • Are urban raccoons more intelligent than those in rural areas? Can living in urban environments enhance raccoons’ intelligence? Perhaps! Find out more by reading “The Intelligent Life of the City Raccoon” online. What are your thoughts? Does it make sense that cities offer opportunities for raccoons to acquire various new skills?
  • If you had the chance, would you keep a raccoon as a pet? Why or why not? Create a pros and cons list evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of having a raccoon as a pet. What would you feed it? Where would it sleep? Do you think it would play with you? Share your thoughts with a friend or family member.

Sources of Wonder



1. How clever are raccoons?

Raccoons are highly intelligent animals and are considered to be one of the most clever species in the animal kingdom. They have the ability to problem solve and demonstrate skills such as opening latches, turning doorknobs, and even unscrewing jars. They are known for their dexterity and adaptability, which allows them to thrive in various environments.

2. Can raccoons learn new tasks?

Yes, raccoons have the ability to learn new tasks. They are quick learners and can be trained to perform certain behaviors or tricks. They have been successfully trained to use tools, such as using sticks to extract food from hard-to-reach places. Their ability to learn and adapt makes them highly resourceful animals.

3. Do raccoons have problem-solving skills?

Yes, raccoons possess excellent problem-solving skills. They have been observed using creative techniques to obtain food, such as washing their food in water to remove dirt or manipulating objects to access hidden treats. They can also remember solutions to problems for long periods of time, which indicates their ability to think critically and find innovative solutions.

4. Are raccoons good at stealing food?

Raccoons have a reputation for being skilled thieves when it comes to obtaining food. Their dexterity and intelligence allow them to open containers, break into trash cans, and raid bird feeders. They have a keen sense of smell and can detect food from a distance. However, it is important to note that their behavior is driven by their natural instincts and survival needs.

5. Can raccoons outsmart humans?

Raccoons are highly intelligent and can sometimes outsmart humans in certain situations. Their ability to problem solve, adapt, and use their dexterity effectively can make it challenging for humans to outwit them. However, humans have developed various strategies and techniques to prevent raccoon-related problems, such as securing trash cans and using deterrents to protect their property.

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