Ecology of raccoons at High Knob Recreation Area, Virginia

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Virginia Tech


The ecology of raccoons (Procyon lotor) in High Knob Recreation Area, Virginia was studied from 1988 to 1990. Thirty raccoons were trapped and radio-collared, and 123 raccoons were collected from hunters and subsequently necropsied. Hunting was the primary cause of adult mortality. The annual survival rate was 0.54 according to a method described by Pollock et al. (1989). The finite rate of increase as calculated from life and fecundity tables was 0.929 indicating the population may have been decreasing slightly. Most raccoons examined were in good condition based on two condition indices. Good condition of these raccoons is likely related to the areas’ excellent mast crops in 1988 and 1989.

Only 77% of live-trapped and 80% of hunter-collected raccoons produced litters. Lower productivity in High Knob raccoons as compared to other studies is believed to be habitat quality related. Acorns (Quercus spp.) and beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) were the most important food items making up 29.2% and 20.8% of aggregate weight, respectively. Home range sizes were larger among males (649.1 ± 112.6 ha) and females (239.0 ± 40.0 ha) at High Knob than home range sizes reported from high quality habitats, which may reflect the poorer quality of habitat at High Knob. Home range overlap was extensive. On average, 67% of each home range was overlapped by 3 to 4 other home ranges. Activity and movements were depressed during the winter. Consistent use by raccoons of any particular forest stand type in relation to its availability was not found at High Knob. This is probably because of the homogeneity of the forest stand types. It is unlikely that raccoon populations will ever be as high at High Knob as in lowland areas due to poor habitat suitability.