But no, I decided to leave my ice chest on the porch of the screened shelter that night. It had a secure lid, I thought. And it was right next to the door of the shelter. Who would bother it?
In the middle of the night, my friends saw the empty yogurt cups on the lawn. They must have assumed I had gotten hungry. They didn’t say anything about the cups. They didn’t even remark on what a litterer I was! It is good to have friends who will accept you as you are.
At first light I stepped out of the shelter, and I was shocked to find all four cups of flavored yogurt had been eaten. The discarded cups with the neatly ripped open lids were licked clean and left for me to find. I had been planning on surprising my three campmates with the delicious treats for our breakfast. I had even brought spoons.
The spoons were still there, but the yogurt was decidedly gone. A raccoon had gotten into the ice chest. The top to the ice chest was in place, but the bandit’s signature was there: A yogurty little handprint on the clasp. He had even closed the chest after raiding it. It seemed like the graffiti artist had left his mark as a way of thumbing his nose at me!
Well, at least I still had the cheese sticks. Or did I? I opened the ice chest and sure enough, both bags of cheese sticks were gone. Twenty-four cheese sticks had been taken. I soon found the wrappers scattered far and wide. He must have eaten them on the go. That was a lot of dairy products for one raccoon. I hoped he wasn’t “lactose-intolerant.”
Actually, it was probably the work of a group of raccoons. Most likely a mother and her half-grown young found the treats and split them up amongst themselves. Still, it was a lot of cheese devoured in one night.
I didn’t know that raccoons would eat cheese and yogurt. The field guides say they are fond of birds’ eggs, fruit and nuts. And since they often forage near water, it isn’t surprising that they will crack open mollusks and catch fish, frogs, aquatic insects and crayfish.
Raccoons are omnivores. Plant and animal foods are both eaten. In fact, the molars of raccoons are flat-surfaced (rather like ours) and are used for crushing food. On the other hand, the back teeth of carnivores, like dogs and cats, are shaped for cutting meat.
Raccoons are also opportunists. They will happily raid corn fields when the ears are ripe. Surely you have heard of raccoons twisting open garbage cans and bird feeders to get at the contents. And only a fool would leave an ice chest full of “people food” out where raccoons can get into it.
The secret to their dexterity is in their handlike paws. They use their long-fingered hands to manipulate and even appear to “wash” their food. Some references say that they may just be “examining the items more closely by touch while holding them underwater.” Looks like washing to me!
Raccoons are found all over Texas and in almost every kind of habitat. They are more common in woody or brushy country, often near water. But you will seldom see them in the daytime. They are nocturnal foragers. At dawn the bands of bandits return to their dens to sleep off the night’s excesses.
Even if your food is not raided by raccoons, you will know if raccoons have been around. Their tracks are distinctive. Raccoons walk on the bare soles of their feet, rather like we humans and bears do. The five long toes on both the front and back feet leave clear impressions in soft mud. You can even see the claw marks at the tips of the toes in a good print.
So look for signs of our “friendly” neighborhood rascals. But be warned: RACCOONS WILL EAT YOUR FOOD!