What personality and behavioral traits make raccoons more skilled bandits in urban areas? This is the question that a team of researchers from Wyoming set out to study.
Researchers trapped and tagged 204 wild raccoons in Laramie, Wyoming between August 2015 and September 2019, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology on September 22.
Marking the raccoons, the researchers noted their personality traits: Was the raccoon more bold and aggressive? Or calmer and more timid?
Next, the researchers set the scene: they placed a number of boxes in the area equipped with a two-button device. If the raccoons pressed the correct button, the box would dispense food to them. After a while, the “correct” button and the wrong button were reversed, according to the study.
This experiment tested the ability of different raccoons to learn — and relearn — how the treat box works. The researchers recorded the number of errors made by different raccoons.
The more docile raccoons — those who were “shy, less aggressive and less active” — showed greater flexibility in learning the treat box, the researchers said.
Young raccoons showed a similar pattern, but the researchers said the study included too small a group of young raccoons to draw strong conclusions.
Attempts to deter raccoons from committing mischief by killing bolder raccoons could have the opposite effect, researchers have warned. This strategy likely lets calmer raccoons mate and pass on their superior human avoidance skills alongside their banditry skills.
Laramie is about 50 miles northwest of Cheyenne.