January 3, 2012

The Raccoon Dog

Nyctereutes procyonoides

This photograph is under Creative Commons's Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license.

What is it?
Upon glancing at this animal, your first thought is probably "is this a dog-like raccoon, a raccoon-like dog, or something not related either one?".  Well, the answer is raccoon-like dog, or raccoon-like canine to be more correct.  It has a thick coat and is about the size of a fox, but with shorter legs.

Where is it?
Raccoon dogs live in eastern Asia.  Their range (in blue, below) spans eastern Russia, Japan, both Koreas, eastern China, down through the northern-half of Vietnam, and eastern Laos.  They are found in a variety of habitats but preference seems to be for thick vegetation near wetlands.  They can also be found near ocean coastlines(1).
     Russians introduced wild raccoon dogs to the former soviet union in order to make use of its fur(1).  The introduced range (in red, below) now spans from eastern Germany to western Russia, as far south as Romania and as far north as the Netherlands.  Needless to say, the introduced raccoon dogs had no problem adapting to the environment of eastern Europe.
Raccoon Dog natural range (in blue) and introduced range (in red). Image by Chermundy (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How is it?
Raccoon dogs are not currently at any risk of becoming threatened with extinction(3). They have a widespread range and can thrive in diverse habitats.

What is it related to?
Foxes.  It represents a basal canid group.  This means that the raccoon dog is in a group of species which are similar to the first animals to walk the earth that were considered canines.

This raccoon dog appears to be foraging for food.  The photo was taken on 
a small island off of Matsushima, Japan. Though wild, this individual was 
reported to be comfortable in close proximity to people.  Photo taken by and is
the property of Sean P Barry, who courteously provided it for use in this blog.  The photo can also
be found on Sean's flickr page.
What does it eat?
The raccoon dog is omnivorous. The diet may consist of a very wide variety of animals and plants. On the menu for raccoon dogs are rodents, insects and insect larva, other invertebrates, frogs, birds, eggs, lizards, crabs, crayfish, and fish.
     The vegetarian side of its diet includes berries, other fruits, seeds, and rhizomes (these are horizontal portions of plants from which roots and upward shoots branch off of)(1)(4).

What eats it?
Asian leopards (including the critically endangered Amur leopard), tigers, bears, lynx, and wolves.  Raccoon dog kits may fall prey to foxes and large birds of prey.

Interesting facts
Raccoon dog fur for sale in Italy. Photo by
Kuerschner (Own work) [Public domain], via 
Wikimedia Commons.
  • Raccoon dogs will often use dens initially made by a fox or badger(4).
  • Raccoon dogs climb trees to access fruit(1).
  • Raccoon dogs are the only canids in the world known to go through a hibernation-like period known as torpor.  Those living in colder climates are inactive during periods of low temperature and scarce food abundance.  It is not a true hibernation because the raccoon dogs may awaken and come out on warmer winter days to forage(1).  
  • Raccoon dogs are farmed for fur in Finland(1) and China.  Some fur farms have become notorious for extremely cruel and gruesome treatment (see article). 
  • Another common name for this animal is the Tanuki.

The Scientific Name
The name Nyctereutes procyonoides is the scientific or latin name for the raccoon dog.  Nyctereutes refers to the genus that the species falls within.  A genus is a group of related species.  For example, the genus Panthera contains the tiger (Panthera tigris), the leopard (Panthera pardus), the jaguar (Panthera onca), and the lion (Panthera leo). However, the raccoon dog is the only extant member within the genus Nyctereutes.  This means that in the past, there were other species similar to the raccoon dog within this genus but they have since gone extinct.  As you may have guessed, procyonoides designates the animal species commonly reffered to as the raccoon dog.
This is a juvenile raccoon dog. Photo taken in Miyajima, Japan. Photo by Martin E. Walder (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Works Cited:
(Check the web sources for more detailed info on this animal)

(1) Kauhala, K., M. Saeki. 2008. Nyctereutes procyonoides. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red
            List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 02
            January 2012.
(2) Pough, F. Harvey, Christine M. Janis, John B. Heiser. Vertebrate Life. 8th ed. San Francisco, CA:
            Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2009.
(3) "Raccoon Dog." Canids.org. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group, 2008. Web. 2 Jan 2012.
(4) "Raccoon Dog." WAZA.org. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2012. 


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey Tyler, who would win in a fight a wolf or a dog, whichever dog is the best fighter?

Tyler Mahard said...

Assuming both animals are adults, I would say wolf in most cases. Unless it were a large dog that was more powerful.

Anonymous said...

hmm thats interesting, how would a raccoon dog fair? Also a honey badger? Thanks for your response!

Anonymous said...

Really solid info man real soild

Tyler Mahard said...

Thank you.

I would say that a wolf would beat a raccoon dog in a fight. The largest recorded raccoon dog mentioned in the sources for this post weighed 12.4 kg (27 lbs). Grown wolves will way 20 or more lbs more than this.

From what I've heard about honey badgers, they could definitely beat a raccoon dog and I'd bet one could beat a wolf. They are one of the most vicious animals in Africa and they are solid muscle.

Anonymous said...

hey you should make a poll so that your readers can vote for which animal you do next, for example I would vote for some kind of penguin.

Tyler Mahard said...

The post for this month is on the African Penguin. I will look into a poll. That's a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion.