Raccoons are a commonly seen animal across America. Due to their omnivorous diet, and a paw that allows them some of the dexterity of an opposable thumb, they could thrive in a wide range of habitats including coastal marshlands, forested mountains, and even the most densely populated city in the United States. They are also easily identifiable, due to appearances in cartoons, comic books, and more. There are three species of raccoon, one is largely native to North America, another is mostly native to South America, but all three are native to the Caribbean and Central America. These are the three raccoons of the Caribbean;
Common Raccoon – Procyon Lotor
The Common Raccoon ranges from Canada to Panama. Within its range there are several subspecies that are identified by their skeletal structure, features of the skull, and the length and color of the fur. Florida has the largest species diversity since there is a peninsula subspecies (Procyon Lotor Elucus), as well as several that are indigenous to different islands of the Florida Keys.
These include the Key Vaca Raccoon (Procyon Lotor Auspicatus), the Torch Key Raccoon (Procyon Lotor incautus), the Matecumbe Key raccoon (Procyon Lotor Inesperatus), and the Ten Thousand Islands raccoon (Procyon Lotor Marinus). All of these are endemic to a few islands of the Florida Keys except for the last one which also lives in the Everglades. These are all typically smaller, and lighter in color than raccoons found on the continent.
About three hundred kilometers away in New Providence resides the Bahamas Raccoon (Procyon Lotor Maynardi) which is most closely related to the Guadeloupe Raccoon (Procyon Lotor Minor), and the now extinct Barbados raccoon (Procyon Lotor Gloveralleni). These species all have dark fur, and were most likely introduced by humans to those islands several hundred years ago.
Crab-Eating Raccoon – Procyon Cancrivorus
The crab-eating raccoon and the common raccoon diverged from the same ancestor about four million years ago. Despite the name this creature does not exclusively eat crabs. It is a generalist omnivore just like its northern cousin although it has teeth better suited to eating crustaceans and shellfish. It also has shorter fur, sharper claws, and a lighter build. Compared to common raccoons, the feet are darker, and the facial mask does not extend towards the cheeks. It is not as adaptable to different environments as the common raccoon, and is almost always found near bodies of water. The crab-eating raccoon is native to all of the countries in South America, and several countries in Central America, with two subspecies found in the Caribbean.
Central American crab-eating raccoons (Procyon Cancrivorus Panamensis) lives in northern Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama. In its northern range, it shares some of its habitat with the common raccoon. It also more closely resembles the common raccoon than other species of crab eating raccoons.
Northern Amazon crab-eating raccoons (Procyon Cancrivorus Cancrivorus) lives in northern Venezuela, and the Guianas. They also live in Trinidad, and have recently been rediscovered in Tobago, where they were previously thought to be extinct. Its range is separated from the Central American crab-eating raccoons by the Andes mountains. They are also more elusive than that subspecies as their activity is limited to wetlands, and they are only active at night. In some specimens, there is no full facial mask, and instead there is simply a dark circle around each eye.
Cozumel Raccoon – Procyon Pygmaeus
This species of raccoon is endemic to the island of Cozumel off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. They were previously considered to be a subspecies of the common raccoon, but genetic research has indicated that they are a different species altogether.
Compared to the raccoons on the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel raccoons have smaller teeth, a rounded snout, and a golden tail. It is also much smaller, so they are also known as Pygmy Raccoons.
In summary, in the Caribbean there are five types of raccoon that could be easily identified by their distinct appearances;
- Common raccoons with pale fur found in the Florida Keys
- Common raccoons with dark fur found in Guadeloupe and the Bahamas
- Cozumel raccoons with golden tails found in Cozumel
- Crab eating raccoons with small masks found in T&T, the Guianas and Venezuela
- Crab eating raccoons with full masks found in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia