PBS’ “Nature” visits “Raccoon Nation”

In tonight’s fascinating episode of the PBS series Nature called “Raccoon Nation,” filmmakers and scientists use night-vision cameras and radio collars to study the generally nocturnal world of those omnivorous title critters who have become remarkably adaptable to living in urban environments — as anyone who has ever woken up to a spilled-over trash can or other evidence of their handiwork can attest to. With their busy little hands, these animals can do what other city-dwelling creatures can’t, like open doors, get into attics and, of course, raid garbage containers. But would you expect any less from an animal whose “mask” makes it look like a cute little robber?

As if raccoons aren’t already smart and resilient enough, this program puts forth the interesting premise that our efforts in keeping raccoons out of our business may, in fact, be teaching them exactly the skills they need to further adapt to our world. We may be unwittingly helping to evolve the next generation of super-raccoon!

A few quotes from the experts in the show have me thinking that maybe I ought to just say “Uncle” and keep my garbage strewn across my backyard:

— “It’s possible that moving into the urban environments is creating technically smarter raccoons.”

— “The more obstacles you throw in their way, it becomes more challenging. So it’s quite possible that by providing more and more obstacles, we are, in fact, selecting for a smarter raccoon.”

— “Raccoons can build on their knowledge. Once they figure out one garbage can, they can generalize to another garbage can that might be slightly different. And that makes them unbeatable.”

Nature: Raccoon Nation premieres tonight, Feb. 8, at 8pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

Watch Living for the City on PBS. See more from Nature.


Photo courtesy of Laurie Peterson