Calm, passive raccoons adapt better to the urban environment, suggests a study published Thursday.
Researchers studied 204 wild raccoons for two years to test whether they could press a button for a reward.
The results could help inform how conservationists deal with urban raccoons.
Raccoons are loved and regretted rummaging through city trash. Now researchers say one quality has made certain raccoons thrive in cities: how calmly they reacted to new situations.
In a study published Thursday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers examined how adaptable these mischievous mammals are. The research team, led by Lauren Stanton of the University of California, Berkeley, tagged 204 wild raccoons in the city of Laramie, Wyoming, between August 2015 and September 2019, by luring them with pet food.
Over two years of observations, researchers tested whether raccoons were able to find a raccoon-sized cubicle near them with two buttons in it. Pressing a button releases a handful of dog treats. The other didn’t let go. The furry omnivores initially had their doubts about the cubicle, researchers wrote.
After learning to pigeonhole themselves for treats, researchers switched things up by changing which button released the edible reward.
Scientists believe that the ability to solve problems in new situations, using reason and thinking, is especially important for urban nature, Stanton said in a press release.
After two years, researchers found that 27 raccoons mastered the cell visit and 19 discovered which button was a reward. Of those observed, 17 realized the reward button had been changed.
Interestingly, when Stanton’s team observed the animals’ temperaments, they found that the least daring raccoons were best prepared to operate the treat-delivery mechanism. That “suggests a possible relationship between emotional reactivity and cognitive ability in raccoons,” Stanton said.
According to researchers, the youngest raccoons seemed the most excited to enter the cubicle and explore. But when researchers switched buds, adult raccoons were better prepared to take on the challenge. That may be because young raccoons’ cognitive skills are less developed, but the sample size was too small to draw conclusions, researchers wrote in the study.
The booth itself became a lively place for raccoons, with several of them climbing in at the same time and bumping into each other.
During the observation period, the cell’s camera caught other furry visitors, including four striped skunks, like the one in the video above.
Stanton and her team hope her results can better inform wildlife managers dealing with urban raccoons, as the calmest — not the brashest — are most likely to cause trouble.
Read the original article on Business Insider