Frequency and duration of contacts between free-ranging raccoons: uncovering a hidden social system

Prange, S., S. D. Gehrt, and S. Hauver

Raccoons (Procyon lotor), like most carnivores, are nocturnal and secretive and consequently difficult to observe. We used proximity-detecting collars to determine effects of sex, age, and season on contact rate and duration; document patterns of seasonal contact rates by dyad type and determine whether patterns were random; identify dyads that exhibited contact rates significantly greater than expected and document the persistence of these positive associations across seasons; and document frequency of den sharing as an additional measure of positive associations at an urban study site with a high-density raccoon population. Contact rate and duration were affected by dyad type, season, and their interaction. Male–male (MM) dyads exhibited higher contact values than male–female (MF) or female–female (FF) dyads, and contact parameters were greater during winter and spring than summer and autumn. Contact parameters for MM and FF dyads were not affected by age of dyad members, whereas those of MF dyads were affected by age and its interaction with season. MF dyads with older individuals exhibited greater contact parameters, and this effect was greatest during winter. For all dyad types and seasons, except FF dyads during winter, observed distributions of contact rates differed from expected. Males formed groups, with most positively associated dyads persisting across seasons, and females were associated almost exclusively with members of only 1 male group. Some positively associated MF dyads occurred during autumn and continued through spring. Positively associated FF dyads occurred at a lower rate and were ephemeral, seldom lasting more than 1 season. FF and MF dyads exhibited a greater proportion of low-frequency contacts with conspecifics than expected during all seasons, except winter, which may function to maintain amicable relationships between neighbors or reinforce dominance hierarchies and create a framework for more complex social behaviors. Raccoons appear to live in a fission–fusion society, with many short-term acquaintances and a few long-term associations.

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Prange, S., S. D. Gehrt, and S. Hauver. 2011. Frequency and duration of contacts between free-ranging raccoons: uncovering a hidden social system. Journal of Mammalogy 92(6):1331-1342.