Nyctereutes procyonoidesraccoon dog

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Geographic Range

Nyctereutes procyonoides is native to eastern Siberia, northern China, North Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Between 1927 and 1957, the fur-farming industry introduced from 4,000 to 9,000 raccoon dogs to the European and Asian U.S.S.R. Today, N. procyonoides is widespread throughout northern and western Europe in countries including Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, France, Austria, and Hungary. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Habitat

Nyctereutes procyonoides is found in subarctic and subtropical climates. It prefers forest, forest borders, or dense vegetation— areas of thick underbrush, marshes, and reedbeds— for dense cover. Regions bordering water are also favored. Raccoon dogs are found from near sea level to greater than 3,000 m. Nyctereutes procyonoides also has been known to encroach upon human habitats while scavenging for food. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1989; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3000 m
    0.00 to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

Nyctereutes procyonoides has the appearance of a small fox-like canid with the fur markings similar to those of raccoons (Procyon lotor). They have small heads (greatest length 133 mm) with pointed, low-profile rostra. The dental formula is i 3/3, c 1/1, p 4/4, m 2 or 3/3, total 42 or 44. Raccoon dogs have reduced carnassials and relatively large molars. Height ranges from 38.1 to 50.8 cm. Length from head to rump is 50 to 68 cm with a tail length of 13 to 25 cm. Legs are short, and overall the body is stocky. Body weight ranges from 4 to 6 kg in the summer to 6 to 10 kg in the winter before hibernation. On average, individuals in Europe tend to be larger than those in China and Japan. The existence of several subspecies of N. procyonoides may account for this discrepancy. Mass of adult females in China and Japan is 0.5kg greater than males. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990; Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

The fur of N. procyonoides is dense and soft. Markings on the head include a white muzzle, white face, and black fur surrounding the eyes. A black marking runs across both shoulders and down the back, forming the shape of a cross. Ears are rounded and short; black hair one the ears trims the white hair inside. Body color is dusky brown to yellow-brown dorsally but varies greatly. Long guard hairs, found throughout the dorsal side, are tipped black. On the belly, the fur is lighter brown or tan. Limbs and chest are blackish-brown. Raccoon dogs have thick, bushy tails that are black dorsally and light-yellow ventrally with a black tip. Winter pelage is thicker and darker than summer pelage. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Nyctereutes procyonoides goes through a molt in the summer between July and October. The winter pelage grows in during September, October, and November. Raccoon dogs also have a spring molt that begins in April when the underfur is shed. The summer coat is in by mid-June. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    4 to 10 kg
    8.81 to 22.03 lb
  • Range length
    50 to 68 cm
    19.69 to 26.77 in

Reproduction

Not much is known about the mating behavior of N. procyonoides. Studies have shown that raccoon dogs form mating pairs from year to year, and monogamy among pairs has been reported in raccoon dogs found in Finland. In regions of home-range overlap, pairs do not interact. Polygamy has been reported in captive individuals. (Kauhala, et al., 1993; Sheldon, 1992)

During mating, females are courted by 3 to 4 males. There is little fighting among males for mates. In captivity, both scent marking and male-female interaction increased during proestrus. Pair bonds form before copulation and remain until after offspring have become independent. An inverted U-shaped tail posture in males is associated sexual arousal and expresses dominance. After pairs mate and the female gives birth, males and females spend a significant amount of time together raising the pups. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Females come into heat once a year, after hibernation. Data from raccoon dogs in captivity show that estrus lasts from 3 to 5 days. Copulation occurs at the end of the cold part of winter in January, February, or March, depending on geographic location. Copulation ties are an average of 6 minutes. Gestation period ranges from 59 to 64 days. Nyctereutes procyonoides usually gives birth in dense vegetation or in burrows that have been abandoned by foxes or badgers. Average litter size is 5 to 7, with the highest of 19 pups reported. Pups are born blind and have soft, black fur. Weight ranges from 60 to 115 g at birth depending on subspecies. Between the 9th and 10th day, pups' eyes open and teeth are visible by 14 to 16 days. Mothers wean their pups between 30 to 40 days of age. At this time, the typical face mask and the guard hairs are fully developed. Mass and size increase in a linear fashion until 50 to 60 days. Offspring are the size of small adults at 80 to 85 days of age. The offspring will reach sexual maturity at 9 to 11 months. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Breeding interval
    Nyctereutes procyonoides breeds only once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Mating in raccoon dogs occurs in January, February or March and coincides with early spring.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 19
  • Average number of offspring
    6.33
  • Average number of offspring
    6
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    59 to 64 days
  • Average gestation period
    61 days
  • Range weaning age
    30 to 70 days
  • Range time to independence
    4 to 5 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 to 11 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 11 months

During late pregnancy, a female’s mate brings her food. After she gives birth, the male also has a role in postnatal care. The young are weaned at 30 to 40 days; the male typically watches over them while the female hunts for food. The male may also hunt while the female watches the young. At 4 months, the pups begin learning how to hunt by watching their parents. In a short time, they are self-supporting although they may remain with their parents, and hunt as a family, until the fall. At that point, they are independent. Between 9 to 11 months the offspring will have reached sexual maturity. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of N. procyonoides in the wild is not known. In a study of trapped animals, the oldest males were in an age class of 5.5 years, and the oldest females were in an age clasee of 7.5 years. Of 320 raccoon dogs captured, 68.4% of the population was younger adults. In captivity, longevity can be greater than 14 years. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Behavior

Radiotelemetry studies show that raccoon dogs live and hunt in pairs or small family groups. In most sightings by humans, however, they are solitary. It is unknown whether the duration of the pair bond formed during reproduction lasts the entire year. When sleeping or resting, pairs usually remain in contact with one another. Social grooming is also important in raccoon dogs. This behavior is linked to the dark facial mask in both this species and bat-eared foxes (Otocyon). (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Although some studies have shown the species to be primarily nocturnal, recent studies show regular diurnal, crepuscular, and nocturnal activity. Increased duration of activity is probably due to the need to find enough small food items to eat. Raccoon dogs are not cursorial. These animals forage on the ground or on low vegetation. They also are able to swim or dive for food. Nyctereutes procyonoides relies on its sense of smell while hunting and foraging because it has relatively poor vision for a member of the family Canidae. With its nose at the ground level, it wanders in search for food. Raccoon dogs are not fast animals, but they are relentless in their search for food. They are typified as collectors or gatherers. (Colby, 1965; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1989; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Raccoon dogs hibernate in pairs. Hibernation begins in November and may extend through early April, depending on the local climate. An individual may gain as much as 50% of its body weight before hibernation. Hibernation is not absolutely necessary for this species. If an individual is unable to store enough fat beforehand, it will have to emerge from the den on warm winter days to forage. For this reason, some individuals may not hibernate at all. In the southernmost part of the range, raccoon dogs do not hibernate. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Range territory size
    0.26 to 20 km^2
  • Average territory size
    3.4 km^2

Home Range

A male-female pair will share the same home range and may remain close together when active. In areas of home-range overlap, neighbors do not interact. This confirms that N. procyonoides is not territorial. Overall home range of this species varies from 2.8 to 200 ha. Population density of Japanese raccoon dogs (ranging from 0.46 to 0.86/ha) is greater than in Europe (ranging from 0.0014 to 0.048/ha). This disparity is due to environmental differences and the existence of a different subspecies in each area. (Kauhala, et al., 1993)

Communication and Perception

Nyctereutes procyonoides uses latrines to communicate with other members of the species. A latrine is a definite site where an entire group of raccoon dogs will both urinate and defecate. Research has suggested that raccoon dogs use the latrine for information exchange among family members as well strangers. The animals modify their behavior based on olfactory recognition of conspecific individuals when they encounter one another. (Yamamoto, 1984)

Raccoon dogs are vocal canids. However, they do not, like all other representatives of the order, bark. They may whine, whimper, or mew; these are all responses coupled with friendly or submissive behavior. They may growl when frightened or when being aggressive. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

In addition to scent cues and vocal communication, these animals use some body postures--such as tail position--to indicate dominance and readiness to mate. Tactile communication if probably important between parents and offspring, as well as between mates.

Food Habits

Nyctereutes procyonoides is an opportunistic omnivore. On land, it hunts insects, small rodents, amphibians, birds, and eggs. It also fishes in lakes, rivers, and streams using its paws to scoop prey out of the water. It also dives underwater in search for its meal. In addition, raccoon dogs eat mollusks, snakes, and lizards; on the seashore, crabs, sea urchins, and sea carrion are also consumed. (Colby, 1965; Sheldon, 1992)

Raccoon dogs also eat plant material— including stems, roots, leaves, bulbs, fruits, nuts berries, and seeds— according to the season and location. During the fall, they eat mainly vegetables, including a variety of fruits, wild berries, and seeds such as oats. In the winter, when food sources are limited, they may survive on human garbage and carrion. In Japan, raccoon dogs rely heavily on garbage, insects, fish, crabs, and plants such as buckthorn (Rhamnus), hornbeam (Carpinus), and a shrub (Aucuba japonica). In Finland, during the summers, they rely on small mammals (Mus musculus), plants, and amphibians; during the winter, they rely on carrion, small mammals, and plants. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • echinoderms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Not much is known about the antipredator adaptations of N. procyonoides. Wolves, lynx, wolverines, martens, golden eagles, sea eagles, eagle owls, and domestic dogs are all predators of this species. In the former U.S.S.R. and Finland, humans are also major predators of raccoon dogs. Raccoon dogs are used for commercial trapping and fur farming by humans. In Japan, raccoon dogs are also eaten by humans. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Ecosystem Roles

Raccoon dogs are an important food source for various larger canids as well as humans. They are also responsible for controlling insect and rodent populations, but, because they are generalists, they do not affect any one species on a large scale. Nyctereutes procyonoides is prone to infections including mange, rabies, piroplasmosis, and helminths. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Trematoda
  • Cestoidea
  • Nematoidea
  • Acanthocephala

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Japan, Finland, and the former U.S.S.R. benefit from the trading of the fur of N. procyonoides. Pelts are used for necklets, collars, and fur coats. In Japan, people eat raccoon dogs as well as use their fur for bristles for calligraphy brushes. The bones have also been used medicinally and as an aphrodisiac. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Raccoon dogs are capable of living in areas close to humans. They are often exterminated because they are carriers of diseases that can be trasmitted to humans and other animals. They are also killed for preying on small-game animals and other wildlife. (Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Conservation Status

Nyctereutes procyonoides is not an endangered species. (Colby, 1965; Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Other Comments

The success of N. procyonoides is in part due to its great adaptability, high reproductive rate, tolerance of human presence, and opportunistic foraging behavior. Nyctos means "night" and ereuna means "seeking." Prokyon means "before dog" and eidos means "form." The species is not closely related to any other member of Canidae. It has the unusual characteristic of supernumerary chromosomes and shares homologous chromosomes with members of Felidae. For these reasons, the taxonomic position of N. procyonoides is not clear. Taxonomists recognize five to six subspecies of N. procyonoides. (Sheldon, 1992; Ward and Wurster-Hill, 1990)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kelly Carr (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

natatorial

specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

polar

the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Colby, C. 1965. Wild Dogs. New York: Duell, Sloan, Pearce.

Kauhala, K., E. Helle, K. Taskinen. 1993. Home range of the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in southern Finland. Journal of Zoology, 231: 95-106.

Sheldon, J. 1992. Wild Dogs : The Natural History of the Nondomestic Canidae . San Diego: Academic Press.

Ward, O., D. Wurster-Hill. 1990. Mammalian Species: Nyctereutes procyonoides . The American Society of Mammalogists, No. 358: 1-5. Accessed February 02, 2004 at http://www.science.smith.edu/departments/Biology/VHAYSSEN/msi/.

Ward, O., D. Wurster-Hill. 1989. Ecological studies of Japanese raccoon dogs, Nyctereutes procyonoides. Journal of Mammalogy, 70: 330-334.

Yamamoto, I. 1984. Latrine Utilization and Feces Recognition in the Raccoon Dog. Journal of Ethology, 2: 47-54.