Link #107: Do Raccoons Wash Their Hands and Food?



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Link #107: Do Raccoons Wash Their Hands and Food?

Image credit: Christina Welsh (Rin), (CC BY-ND 2.0)

In our last post, we spoke about the origins of tennis. We described how, at the very beginning, nobody played tennis with a racquet. Instead, everyone played with their hands and palms. It’s not surprising that the initial version of tennis didn’t involve tools like racquets because the natural inclination of all mammals with dextrous hands is to depend upon them heavily.

Take for example, raccoons. There’s a whole myth revolving around these simple mammals. People think that they wash their hands and food with water before they eat. However, the real reason they do this is because of their dependence on their hands. Let us explain.

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Why Do People Think That Raccoons Wash Their Hands and Food?

There’s a solid reason behind the myth that raccoons wash their hands and food. Initially, this myth originated because people noticed raccoons in captivity dipping their food in their water bowls.

In the wild, when raccoons catch or find food near a water body, they have the tendency of dipping their hands and food in water. This isn’t all. After the dipping, raccoons rub their wet food in their wet hands before another dipping.

This whole action makes it seem like raccoons are washing their food and hands before eating. However, this isn’t true because even when there isn’t any water nearby, raccoons do the action in air. Also, it’s common for raccoons to fish through garbage cans for food when they’re near urban centres.

If raccoons were worried about cleanliness so much then they wouldn’t perform the action without water. Similarly, if cleanliness was important to them, then they wouldn’t be fishing for food in garbage cans.

Why Do Raccoons Dip Their Hands in Water?

Raccoon in Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Image credit: Steven Pavlov, (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As we explained above, raccoons do the action of washing their hands and food in water even when there is no water nearby. This means that washing is not the real reason why raccoons act this way.

Why raccoons actually do this action is related to how important their hands are to them. Raccoons depend on their hands a lot for their everyday activities. As a matter of fact, raccoons’ hands can be compared to primate hands in terms of dexterity.

This is true even though raccoons don’t have opposable thumbs. Their highly dextrous hands give them a tactile advantage over other mammals because they can feel things. At the same time, because their eyesight isn’t so good, the tactile and dextrous hands allow them to compensate.

When raccoons dip their hands in water, they are essentially making their hands more sensitive. When their hands and food get wet, they can actually feel the texture much more.

Similarly, the habit of rubbing their hands together or rubbing their food between their hands is designed to allow raccoons to feel their food better. This way they can sense if there is something wrong with the food by simply feeling the texture better.

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