Procyon cancrivoruscrab-eating raccoon

Geographic Range

Procyon cancrivorus is found from Costa Rica through eastern and western Paraguay, Uruguay, and into northern Argentina. Its range overlaps with that of northern raccoons in Costa Rica and Panama. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Eisenberg and Redford, 1999)


Procyon cancrivorus and P. lotor are very similar and closely related. Both species can be found in a variety of habitats, including primary and secondary growth forest. Procyon cancrivorus makes use of habitats ranging from the forest of Ilanos, to the xeric chaco vegetation, and even the Amazon rainforests. As long as there are water, food, and places to hide and den, this raccoon will adapt. However, P. cancrivorus seems somewhat more restricted than P. lotor in habitat preferences. Procyon cancrivorous occupies areas around bodies of water, such as swamps, lakes, lagoons, and ocean beaches. Where both species overlap, crab-eating raccoons mainly occupy lands surrounding inland rivers, whereas northern raccoons occupy swamps and beaches.

This species is generally found at lower elevations. (De Fatima, et al., 1999; De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Eisenberg and Redford, 1999)

Physical Description

Crab-eating raccoons are nocturnal, omnivorous/frugivorous animals. Body weights range from 3 to 7 kg. Body lengths are reported as being between 54 and 65 cm, with the tail comprising 25 to 38 cm of the total length. Males tend to be larger than the females.

Procyon cancrivorus is smaller than P. lotor, which helps to distinguish the two species. Male northern raccoons weigh from 7 to 8.3 kg, with the females weighing from 5.1 to 7.1 kg.

The neck fur of crab-eating raccoons slants forward towards the head. These animals appear thinner than P. lotor due to the lack of underfur, an adaptation to the warmer climates it occupies. The black mask of P. cancrivorus fades behind the eyes, unlike the northern species, which has a mask that extends almost to the ears. Pelage of P. cancrivorus is a fairly uniform brown dorsally, making it easily distinguishable from the more grizzled appearance of P. lotor. The legs and feet of P. cancrivorus are dark brown and slender in appearance compared to the white forelegs and whitish-brown hind legs of P. lotor. The tail makes up approximately 60% of the body length in P. lotor, but only 50% in P. cancrivorus.

Dental Formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, P 4/4, M 2/2 = 40 teeth (De Fatima, et al., 1999; De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Eisenberg and Redford, 1999; Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

Not much is known on the BMR of crab-eating raccoons. However, there is adequate information on the northern species, P. lotor. Northern raccoons have a higher mass-specific BRM than other procyonids, which explains why this species has a more widespread distribution. Their metabolic rates do not vary seasonally. Both males and females tend to lose or gain weight among seasons, gaining in the winter and losing in the summer. (De Fatima, et al., 1999; De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Eisenberg and Redford, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    3.0 to 7.0 kg
    6.61 to 15.42 lb
  • Range length
    54 to 65 cm
    21.26 to 25.59 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    2.588 W


Males are polygynous, mating with several females in succession, but females reject other males once they are impregnated. Both sexes are mature after a year. However, younger males usually do not breed because they can not compete with larger, older males. (Eisenberg and Redford, 1999; Nowak, 1999)

Procyon cancrivorus breeds once per year between July and September. The estrous cycle has been estimated to last 80 to 140 days. The gestation period lasts approximately 60 to 73 days and can yield from 2 to 7 pups, although 3 or 4 pups per litter is more typical. Females give birth to their young in dens located in rock crevices, hollow trees, or in the abandoned dens of other animals.

Young raccoons are born without teeth and with their eyes closed. After 3 weeks their eyes open and they begin to show the characteristic mask on their faces. The young are weaned anywhere between 7 weeks and 4 months, and are independent at about 8 months. Procyon cancrivorus undoubtedly falls within this range of variation. If a female loses a newborn litter, she may ovulate a second time during the season.

In areas where P. lotor and P. cancrivorus are both found, there does not appear to be any inbreeding. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from July to September.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 73 days
  • Range weaning age
    7 to 16 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    365 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    365 days

Females provide all the parental care for the young, and may exclude males from the immediate area while they have young. The mother reduces her activity and movements during the week of parturition and becomes intolerant of conspecifics. The young begin to forage with their mother before they are weaned. They are dependent upon the female for up to 8 months, but there is some variation. Males are not actively involved in caring for the young. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003; Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female


Data are lacking on the longevity of P. cancrivorus. However, few raccoons live longer than 5 years in the wild, although some are estimated to survive for 13 to 16 years. In 1982, a northern raccon was still surviving in a zoo after 20 years and seven months. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Nowak, 1999)


Raccoons have well-developed senses and are very intelligent. They are nocturnal and color blind, but have excellent night vision. Their tactile senses are what separate raccoons from other carnivores. They have a well-developed sense of touch, especially in the nose and forepaws (hands), and they use their hands as tools. They use their hands to handle and manipulate food before placing it in their mouths. They are dexterous, and can manipulate small prey items. Raccoons can be observed dipping their hands in the water and “washing” their food before ingesting it. Some intelligence studies have placed raccoons above cats but below primates in their ability to discriminate objects. It was also observed that raccoons can learn quickly and can retain knowledge for up to a year.

Male raccoons are solitary, but will tolerate other males around a feeding area. During breeding season, young males usually disperse to other areas, whereas young females stay within their mother’s home range. In general, raccoons are solitary, even where there are overlapping home ranges between the sexes. There is little interaction between individuals, but exceptions do occur during denning and at food aggregations.

Male social behavior may be driven by the densities and spatial distribution of females. Female distributions are limited by resources such as den sites, water, and food. However, little is known about variation in social structure among various species of raccoons. It is assumed that P. cancrivorus is like other members of the genus in general behavioral patterns. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

There is not much known about the home range size of crab-eating raccoons.

Communication and Perception

Crab-eating raccoons have good hearing capabilities, and are keen to strange noises. Even though they are color blind, they have excellent nighttime vision. Their tactile senses are what really set them apart from other carnivores. This tactile sense allows them to identify food items better than any other senses. There has been 13 different vocalizations recognized, 7 of which involved the mother and young. Although not specifically reported for this species, it is likely that, as in other mammals, scent cues play some role in reproduction and identification of individuals. (Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

Food Habits

For the most part, P. cancrivorus is omnivorous, but fruit has been observed to be the main part of its diet. Crab-eating raccoons consume a variety of foods, including invertebrates, crustaceans, insects, nuts, vegetables, fish, frogs, and small turtles. Olfaction, vision, and their sense of touch are used to identify and capture food. The diet may change with season and food availability. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Details on predation of these animals are lacking. However, it is likely that P. cancrivorus does fall prey to larger carnivores. Procyon lotor is known to be preyed upon by bobcats, coyotes, American alligators, and several species of owls. It is likely that P. cancrivorus has similar predators. Humans may hunt these animals for fur and food. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

Ecosystem Roles

As predators, these raccoons have some impact on prey species. As prey, they may affect predator populations.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Procyon cancrivorus is an important furbearer and game species. It generates revenue from the sale of fur. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003; De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Procyon cancrivorus is a carrier of rabies, and can sometimes damage crops, but usually not to a serious extent. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000; Feldhamer, et al., 2003)

Conservation Status

Northern raccoons are managed as a game species through both hunting and trapping. There is currently no management in Central America for crab-eating raccoons. However, even though P. cancrivorus is less common than P. lotor, it is still doing well in the wild. (De La Rosa and Nocke, 2000)

Other Comments

Many references generalize by just saying "raccoons". By just saying "raccoons", we assume that are including both P. cancrivorus and P. lotor, both of which were discussed throughout this account.


Nicole Phillips (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link E. Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

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


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


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


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).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


active during the night


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


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


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


De Fatima, M., M. Dos Santos, S. Hartz. 1999. The food habits of Procyon cancrivorus (Carnivora, Procyonidae) in the Lami Biological Reserve, Porto Algre, Southern Brazil. Mammalia, 63(4): 525-530.

De La Rosa, C., C. Nocke. 2000. Guide to the Carnivores of Central America. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 1999. Mammals of the Neotropics. London: University of Chicago Press.

Feldhamer, G., B. Thompson, J. Chapman. 2003. Wild Mammals of North America. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.