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All Creatures,

Episode 157: Raccoon Dogs are Real

April 21, 2020

Raccoon Dogs are a species you would think oly belonged in folklore, but they actually exist. They are a much beloved a revered species in Japan. Yet, they are an invasive species and seen as a scourge across Europe. What is true is, this is not like any other canine species, and have stolen our hearts.

Raccoon Dog History

This species is part of the Canidae family. These are the foxes, wolves, and even our pet dogs. Canids evolved nearly 55 million years ago out of the Myacids. The first canid is believed to have evolved in North America about 40 million years ago. If was not until the land bridge formed over the Bering Straight between modern day Alaska and Russia about 8 million years ago, did canids venture forth into Asia. Once they migrated, they then spread throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The earliest ancestors of today’s Racoon Dogs, found once they crossed into Asia, no need to migrate further. They quickly evolved to thrive in an environment that ranges from extreme cold (-50 C) to quite warm (30 C) temperatures. They settled in East Asia and eventually even migrated over to Japan.

Raccoon Dogs are very fox and dog like, yet they appear to be very unique. Their species name is Nyctereutes procyonoides. Within this species there are 5 subspecies:

  • Chinese Racoon Dog (E china)
  • Korean Racoon Dog (Korean Peninsula)
  • Yunaan Racoon Dog (SE China, N Vietnam)
  • Ussuri Racoon Dog (Russia, China, Europe)
  • Japanese Racoon Dog (Japan)

One of the sad stories of this species is the release of Raccon Dogs into Western Russia (USSR) back in the mid 20th Century. The Soviet Union prized these animals for their fur and released many to be hunted. However, being a highly adapted species Racoon Dogs thrived and spread throughout Europe. Today they are viewed as an invasive species, as they deplete native wildlife. Mainly, amphibians and ground nesting birds. Thus, Europe is trying to eradicate these animals.

Raccoon Dog Physiology

Raccoon Dogs are about the size of a fox. They stand up to 24 inches (50 cm) at the shoulder. Their bodies can be as long as 28 inches (70 cm), with a tail as long as 7 inches (18 cm). Weighs fluctuate, with Raccoon Dogs weighing about 6.5 lbs (3.5 kg) in the spring, with weights as heavy as 22 lbs (10 kg) in the fall. This is because unlike any other canid, Raccoon Dogs hibernate. This is the only fox or dog-like species that will hibernate during the winter months.

To survive in such a harsh environment, many Raccoon Dogs will grow a heavy winter coat. This gives them that bushy appearance. This sheds in the spring months. Unlike other canids, Raccoon Dogs can and do climb trees to reach fruit and nuts. As an omnivore these animals eat almost anything. One thing they specialize in, near urban areas, is garbage. In the wild, they hunt insects, small rodents, amphibians, birds, and eggs. They are not afraid of the water and can be seen scooping prey out of water or even dive for food. They have been observed eating mollusks, snakes, and lizards; on the seashore, crabs, sea urchins, and sea carrion are also consumed

Raccoon Dog Conservation

The IUCN lists them as Least Concern. However, there are protections in place within Japan where they are revered.

 

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