Monday, November 14, 2011

Another Day, Another Raccoon

Raccoons are probably the most common road casualty along Marquette's stretch of US 41. For a while, I was tallying them as they were hit, but I've long since lost count. There's a particular area where the bodies of raccoons really seem to pile up, and it's a small span of the highway, between the newly-built traffic circle and the Altamont Street bridge:

click for larger view

Why is this spot such a death trap for raccoons? For one, the four-lane highway cuts between a neighborhood and a wooded area, both of which are ideal locations for raccoons to live. In addition, there's a divider that runs the whole length of this stretch, separating opposing traffic. If a raccoon were to somehow make it halfway across the road, getting around this barrier would be a challenge, especially with cars whipping by at sixty miles an hour.

As a result, raccoons die in great numbers along this small stretch of highway. A few weeks ago, I got a call from Steph; she was talking to one of her classmates, and he'd spotted a freshly-hit raccoon in this area. I had been on the lookout for a sizable raccoon for taxidermy purposes, so after work, I retrieved it, then froze it for skinning at a later, more convenient time.

Before making any incisions, I briefly photographed the raccoon.

This individual, who weighed in at around ten pounds, was a juvenile male. His winter fur had grown in thick and full; he had a few burrs stuck in his curiously stubby tail. The skinning process revealed the layer of fat that he'd put on for the approaching winter, and it was a rather impressive sight to behold.

While they are hit incredibly often by cars, raccoons can also owe their success to people. These animals have come to coexist with humans, enjoying open garbage cans, dumps, and the refuse that people leave behind. Neighborhoods are generally free of predators, allowing raccoons to reproduce and thrive, with little fear of being eaten. With this explosion in raccoon numbers, there of course comes a negative impact to the environment. One of the problems I've heard is that the numbers of frogs, salamanders, and turtles have fallen, due in part to the sheer amount of raccoons consuming them. This is especially an issue in smaller ponds and streams located in or around residential areas. 

Traffic, then, has become the chief enemy and population-controller for raccoons. It's an interesting relationship to consider; as humans we both build up the populations of these animals, as well as tear them down. Just the other day, yet another raccoon had been hit along that stretch of US 41, in bloody, violent fashion. When Steph drove by, a crow was helping itself to the carcass.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I know we have often discussed this topic, and suburbia has become a haven for raccoons and skunks. Growing up in the foothills of the Adirondacks, I rarely saw a raccoon or skunk. I did see weasels, porcupines, red squirrels, chipmunks, bears, the occasional deer, and snowshoe hares. I rarely saw any DOR animals.