Procyon pygmaeusCozumel raccoon

Geographic Range

Pygmy raccoons (Procyon pygmaeus) are endemic to Cozumel, a 486 square km island that lies roughly 17.5 km off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. (Cuarón, et al., 2004)


Physical Description

Pygmy raccoons are similar in appearance to northern raccoons (Procyon lotor). Their fur is primarily buffy gray, with dark hairs interspersed. They have thick masks of dark fur around their eyes, which is surrounded on all sides by contrasting white fur. Their tails have a golden tone and are segmented by 6 to 7 rings of dark fur. Pygmy raccoons are the smallest members of genus Procyon. They weigh about 45% less and are about 17.8% smaller than the Central American subspecies of mainland raccoons, Procyon lotor shufeldti. Adult male pygmy raccoons have an average weight of 3.58 ± 0.52 kg, which is about 11% heavier than the average female weight of 3.28 ± 0.18 kg. Adult pygmy raccoons have a mean total head and body length of 75.5 cm, which is about 90% of the length of the mainland species. Likewise, their tail length is about 79% as long as the mainland species, males have an average tail length of 24.4 cm and females have an average tail length of 24.2 cm. Their canine sizes vary greatly between the sexes, male canines have an average length of 10.8 mm, while female canines only average 9.9 mm. (McFadden and Meiri, 2013; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    3.53 kg
    7.78 lb
  • Average length
    99.9 cm
    39.33 in


Like all other raccoon species, pygmy raccoons are polygynandrous. During the mating season, males and females usually congregate at certain areas during the females’ 3 to 4 day receptive period. During this period, males mate with as many females as possible and females will mate with more than one male. (Nowak, 1991; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

Females reproduce once per year, breeding during one of two breeding seasons. The majority of births occur between November and January; therefore, the breeding interval is September and November. However, some young are born in late summer during July and August, with a May and June breeding interval. After a 63 to 65 day gestation period, they have litters of 2 to 5 offspring, each weighing about 60 to 75 grams. Females generally become sexually mature after about 1 year, while males become sexually mature after about 2 years. (Nowak, 1991; Zeveloff, 2002; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

  • Breeding interval
    Pygmy raccoons generally breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season for most pygmy raccoons is September and November.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    63-65 days
  • Average weaning age
    16 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Males take no part in raising the young; they are cared for, weaned and taught how to survive by the mother alone. Offspring are typically weaned when they are about 16 weeks old. The young become independent when they are about 10 months old, however, in some cases, offspring will stay with their mothers for a short time immediately after sexual maturity, but eventually disperse to find mates. (Zeveloff, 2002; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)


There is currently very little information available regarding the lifespan of pygmy raccoons specifically. In general, members of genus Procyon live 13 to 16 years. In captivity, members of this genus may survive up to 17 years. (Russell and Fritzell, 2006)


Pygmy raccoons are mostly nocturnal, although they are sometimes seen during the day. They build dens for shelter, but unlike most other raccoon species, they do not hibernate due to their semitropical habitat. Pygmy raccoons are generally plantigrade or semi-plantigrade. They are quite capable of climbing trees; their rear feet can rotate 180 degrees, which allows them to descend from trees head-first. Pygmy raccoons are generally solitary, but sometimes individuals will form family groups or temporary aggregations during mating seasons or to exploit human-related food sources. (Zeveloff, 2002; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

  • Average territory size
    0.67 km^2

Home Range

The territory size of individual pygmy raccoons has been estimated to be about 67 ha. Their home range is generally based on food availability. In places where more food is available, territory size is smaller, in places where food is less available, territory size is larger. (Cuarón, et al., 2009)

Communication and Perception

Pygmy raccoons, like all other members of genus Procyon, communicate with all senses. Raccoons commonly use their tactile senses much more than other animals. Raccoons lack opposable thumbs and have non-retractable claws. Their sensitive forepaws are used to handle and interpret food items or other objects. Raccoons have remedial vision, with poor long-distance vision, but decent night vision. Their sense of sight is not as important as their sense of smell. Raccoons use their keen olfactory sense to detect the presence of either predators or prey and food. Scent glands, usually anal glands, along with urine and feces are used as chemical markers that distinguish individuals from their conspecifics. Raccoons also have a heightened auditory sense, which allows them to communicate with each other quite well. Raccoons produce vocalizations that include purrs, whimpers, snarls, growls, hisses, screams and whinnies. These vocalizations are used in intra- and interspecific communication. (Zeveloff, 2002)

Food Habits

Pygmy raccoons are omnivorous and feed on a wide variety of plants and animals. More than 50% of their diet consists of crabs. Other food sources include fruits, insects, crayfish, frogs and other vertebrates and invertebrates depending on availability. Seeds from Manilkara achras fruits and a flowering plant in the pea family have been found in their feces, along with leaves from the grass genus Panicum. There is little variation in feeding behaviors among seasons, locations, sexes and age classes. However, their diet can change following a major change in habitat quality due to habitat destruction by natural or human forces. Hurricanes can reduce the proportion of crabs in their diet and increase the proportion of invertebrates and other food sources. (McFadden, et al., 2006; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit


The main threats facing pygmy raccoons are human-induced including introductions of other raccoon species and predators. Domestic and feral dogs (Canis familiaris) are the main cause of pygmy raccoon deaths. Another leading predator is the introduced Boa constrictor. Pygmy raccoons do not have any adept anti-predator adaptations besides climbing trees; they are much less able to defend themselves from predators than their mainland relatives due to their smaller size. (Zeveloff, 2002; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

Ecosystem Roles

Pygmy raccoons can host several parasites; most are generally derived from their interactions with introduced animals like feral dogs and cats. In some situations, pygmy raccoons could be a significant part of seed dispersal, however, due to their small range, their importance for seed dispersal is reduced. (McFadden, et al., 2005; McFadden, et al., 2006; Zeveloff, 2002)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • nematodes: Capillaria procyonis
  • nematodes: Physaloptera
  • hookworms: Placoconus lotoris
  • protozoan: Eimeria nutalli
  • protozoan: Toxoplasma gondii
  • mites: Listrophoridae
  • trematodes: Heterophyidae

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Unlike other raccoon species, pygmy raccoons were never commercially hunted. Humans generally do not benefit from pygmy raccoons. They can, however, be used by the scientific community to study insular endemic mammals. (de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Several diseases and parasites infect pygmy raccoons that can be spread to humans. Most of these diseases are acquired from domestic animals. Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan that causes the disease Toxoplasmosis, was found in some individuals. Pygmy raccoons are particularly vulnerable to introduced pathogens and diseases such as mange, rabies and canine distemper. Some individuals have developed antibodies to some of these diseases. All of these diseases could be possible threats to humans, but due to the small populations of pygmy raccoons, there is a low chance of disease transfer from raccoons to humans. In the past, when population levels were much higher, there were occasionally occurrences of crop damage. (McFadden, et al., 2005; de Villa-Meza, et al., 2011)

Conservation Status

Morphometrics and molecular data have shown that pygmy raccoons are a separate species from their mainland counterparts, Procyon lotor. Therefore they should be managed independently of other raccoon populations. Pygmy raccoons have been listed as endangered on the official Mexican list of threatened species. In 2008, pygmy raccoons were considered an endangered species. They were categorized as endangered by Belant et al. because their population size declined within their small range, which was less than 500 square km in size and severely fragmented. More recently, Cuarón et al. (2009) recommended that pygmy raccoons be categorized as critically endangered. This recommendation was accepted by the IUCN after 2008 and pygmy raccoons are now considered critically endangered because their population includes fewer than 250 mature individuals, their population size continues to decline, there are extreme fluctuations in the number of mature individuals and there are no subpopulations estimated to contain more than 50 mature individuals. (Belant, et al., 2009; Cuarón, et al., 2009; McFadden, et al., 2008)


Rachel Baker (author), Northern Michigan University, John Bruggink (editor), Northern Michigan University, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat

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


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.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


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


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


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


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

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

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

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


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


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


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


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.


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McFadden, K., M. Gompper, D. Valenzuela, J. Morales. 2008. Evolutionary history of the critically endangered Cozumel dwarf carnivores inferred from mitochondrial DNA analyses. Journal of Zoology, Vol. 276, No. 2: 176-186.

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McFadden, K., D. Garciá-Vasco, A. Cuarón, D. Valenzuela- Galván, R. Medellín, M. Gompper. 2010. Vulnerable island carnivores: the endangered endemic dwarf procyonids from Cozumel Island. Biodiversity and Conservation, Vol. 19, No. 2: 491-502.

McFadden, K., R. Sambrotto, R. Medellín, M. Gompper. 2006. Feeding Habits of Endangered Pygmy Raccoons (Procyon pygmaeus) Based on Stable Isotope and Fecal Analyses. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 87, No. 3: 501-509.

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Mejía-Ortíz, L., G. Yáñez, M. López-Mejía, E. Zarza-González. 2007. Cenotes (anchialine caves) on Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, México. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, Vol. 69, No. 2: 250-255.

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