Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

I am of the opinion that there is no funnier animal than the raccoon dog. There’s just something about its adorable face and ridiculously fluffy fur that makes the raccoon dog laughably cute. What is a raccoon dog, you might ask? Did someone’s little pet pomeranian sneak out of the back yard and meet up with a dashing female raccoon? Because that’s what it looks like. See:

Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)_1

Unfortunately that’s not what happened. Raccoon dogs are canines, but are more slightly more closely related to grey and bat-eared foxes than to dogs or other canines. Even their relationship with foxes is tenuous; they are in their own genus, and have unusual characteristics that they may be in the wrong family entirely. Raccoon dogs are considered to be one of the oldest members of the canid family, and may resemble the ancestral canine.

Raccoon dogs live in northeastern Asia, and have been introduced to Europe, where the species has thrived. Any area with thick vegetative cover is perfect for raccoon dogs – you can imagine those short stubby bodies being perfect for running through dense underbrush. These funny animals are the only species of canine that hibernates, doing so in the colder regions of its range.

In order for hibernation to be successful, a raccoon dog must gain a significant amount of weight before winter, sometimes as much as fifty percent of its body weight. They do this by eating pretty anything – from fish and snakes to insects and eggs. They also eat a fair bit of plant matter, depending on the season and habitat. The basic idea is that raccoon dogs, very much like raccoons, will eat virtually anything. If a raccoon dog fails to gain enough weight for hibernation it may have to forage on warm winter days or skip hibernation altogether.

A raccoon dog with its summer coat. They moult twice a year, to change from a winter coat to summer and back.

A raccoon dog with its summer coat. They moult twice a year, to change from a winter coat to summer and back.

One adorable thing about raccoon dogs is that they live, breed and hibernate in pairs. Can you imagine stumbling across two of these fluffballs curled up together? Just thinking about it makes me squee (If you don’t know what squee means, look it up. Unfortunately it has somehow become part of the English language, and even worse, I just used it in this blog).

Anyway, raccoon dogs are monogamous, and both parents help with raising the young. In fact, the male contribution is so important that when raccoon dogs were first introduced to Europe, only pregnant females were released, and none survived. With the help of their manly mates, the population boomed and the raccoon dog firmly established itself as an invasive species. Another unique aspect of raccoon dogs is that they do not bark like other canids – instead they whimper, mew, whine or growl.

Raccoon dogs are hunted by people, mainly for their fur. A controversy involving a number of companies involved the mislabeling of raccoon dog fur as furs of other animals. Even worse, products labeled as faux fur were actually raccoon dog fur. Oops. Despite hunting for fur and habitat loss, raccoon dogs are common enough, and seem to adapt well to living in proximity with humans. Hopefully this doesn’t change and we can keep this stupid looking guys around!

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