Unrelated to raccoons, and domestic dogs to some extent, the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) hardly has the most appropriate name, from a phylogenetic perspective. In fact, the raccoon dog’s closest relatives are foxes. However, when just looking at this unusual omnivore, the raccoon dog clearly shares many similarities with the raccoons of North America. Native to the forests and wetlands of East Asia, this furry canid has been introduced to Europe as part of the fur trade, where it is considered an invasive species.
The raccoon dog is one of the only species of dog that climbs trees regularly (a habit shared only with the gray fox). Raccoon dogs have specially adapted curved claws to help them climb up trees, where they look for various fruits, berries and nuts. Their diet also consists of insects, rodents, amphibians, fish, reptiles, birds and molluscs.
Living in areas where the temperature may fall to below -20°C, the raccoon dog has evolved a long and thick winter coat, with dense underfur. In winter, their coat is a dark brownish-grey colour, but in the summer months their fur lightens, becoming a brighter reddish-straw colour. Unfortunately, this canid’s extraordinary fur has made it a target. In China, Japan and Russia (among other countries), raccoon dogs are hunted and killed for their fur. In China especially, hundreds of thousands of raccoon dogs are raised in captivity where they are beaten, butchered and skinned – some are even skinned whilst they are still alive. It is utterly unacceptable to treat any animal in such a brutal and merciless way.
Raccoon dogs are the only canids known to hibernate. During hibernation, their metabolism decreases by 25%. This physiological adaptation allows the raccoon dog to conserve food and therefore energy. Individuals that do not put on enough fat before hibernation usually do not survive winter. Raccoon dogs are monogamous – they pair up with a mate and work together to look after their pup. During the female’s pregnancy, the male will bring food to support her. They both play a vital role in the development of their offspring. Wolves are the main predator of raccoon dogs and will kill large numbers in spring and summer, although red foxes may also try to take raccoon dog pups.
Hennessy, K., Wiggins, V. (2014) Animal Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide. 2nd edn. London. Dorling Kindersley.