What are Raccoon Dogs, where do they live?

racoon dog sitting on short grass

A recent study was published linking genetic data from Raccoon Dogs to Covid-19. We won’t be talking about that specific topic but it does raise the question, what are Raccoon dogs?

Racoon dog standing on a snow covered mound.
A wild Raccoon dog is neither a raccoon or a dog.

Despite its name, a raccoon dog is neither a raccoon nor a dog, but it does belong to the canid family, the lineage that includes dogswolves, and foxes. Here are some fascinating facts about the adorable omnivorous creatures that are found in forests, wetlands, farmlands, and urban areas from Sweden to Japan.

There are two species of Raccoon Dog

Raccoon dogs are native to Asia and are classified into two species.  The Japanese raccoon dog or Tanuki, is endemic to Japan and the Common Racoon Dog( and sub-species) which is native to China, Korea, Vietnam and parts of Russia. The Japanese raccoon dog is common in Japanese folklore and appears in commercials and other places such as the Tanooki suit in Super Mario Brothers 3.

What are they?

It’s neither a raccoon nor a dog but they are a member of the same family as dogs — Canidae — but they’re more closely related to foxes. They’re about the same size as a large fox — less than a metre in length — with short, stubby legs that, combined with their dense fur and markings give them the appearance of a large raccoon…hence the name.

Raccoon dog with black fur on its chest sitting on short grass
Racoon Dog sitting on grass

Why are we talking about Raccoon dogs now?

In late January, data was posted to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) database — an international clearing house for researchers for sharing data on influenza and the coronavirus.

That data was posted in conjunction with a research paper later released by scientists, most from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which related to samples taken at the Huanan market in Wuhan in 2020.Florence Débarre, an evolutionary biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research discovered genetic sequences of the virus that researchers in China—led by George Gao, former head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention—had uploaded to a public genomic database called GISAID. The sequences were subsequently taken down but not before several other researchers from different countries downloaded and analyzed them. Samples containing viral RNA, which had been collected at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in early 2020, also contained genetic material from raccoon dogs

Wild raccoon dog standing in tall grass looking backwards
Wild raccoon dog

Facts about Raccoon Dogs

  • Raccoon dogs lineage goes back hundreds of thousands of years
  • Considered invasive in Europe due to the destructive behaviour with gardens and native animals
  • They are the only Canid species which hibernates in Winter
  • They don’t bark but can make a high pitched whine or growl – similiar to raccoons
  • Males stay and support pregnant females and also helps raise them until they are weaned at around 4 months
  • The babies are called pups
  • They are banned from keeping as pets in the US, UK and most of Europe
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