What Makes Raccoons So Curious?

Words like curious and clever seem just right for raccoons. These masked bandits are famous for figuring out how to break into latched camp coolers and burglarize pest-proof garbage cans that foil most other animals. When raccoons amble along the shoreline of a pond or river, they peer into muskrat holes, sniff at unfamiliar objects, and probe beneath rocks and logs like mischievous children. In fact, one of the distinctive characteristics of raccoons is that they seem to be curious about everything. But what is curiousity? Or is such a label a case is just our tendency to attribute peculiar human qualities to animals?

Raccoons share their inquisitive nature with a few other mammals, notably wolves, monkeys, apes, and humans. All are omnivorous feeders that depend for survival on persistence, patience, and luck. Omnivorous animals are likely to find food almost anywhere, which means a curious individual ready to investigate every new possibility is more likely to stay well fed and healthy than one that depends on only a few set patterns of behavior. By sticking its nose where it doesn't belong and pawing around in every nook and cranny, a raccoon is rewarded with meals such as earthworms, snails, and bird's eggs that less inquisitive animals would nevet locate.

Finding such hidden treasures requires special equipment. Raccoons have evolved sensitive and remarkable nimble forepaws ideal for manipulating small objects and exploring in hard-to-reach places. Indeed, the Algonquian Indians, called the Animal arakun, "he who scratches with his hands."

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