City Raccoons Are Smarter Than Their Country Cousins

Toronto has a problem with raccoons. For years, the critters have been overturning garbage cans and entering people’s homes to find food, and they are good at it. Design a new garbage can lid, and the raccoons will figure out a way to get in. In fact, research shows that raccoons that live in a city are smarter than their woodland counterparts.

Suzanne MacDonald, a comparative psychologist who studies raccoon behavior at York University in Toronto, has compared the problem-solving skills of rural and city raccoons. The result? Urbanites trump their country cousins in both intelligence and ability. For the past few summers, she videotaped rural and urban racoons toying with containers baited with cat food. While both rural and city racoons readily approached familiar containers, they dealt differently with unfamiliar ones. Where rural raccoons took a long time to approach novel containers, city raccoons would attack them the moment she turned her back.

One particularly persistent urban raccoon even learned to open doors leading into MacDonald’s garage, where she keeps her garbage bins. It stood up on an overturned flowerpot, and kept pulling and pushing on the round knob of the door handle with its five-digit paws until it turned. “Normally, they can’t do that, they can’t grasp and turn things very easily,” MacDonald says. “Raccoons in the city are extraordinary, not only in their ability to approach things, but they have no fear, and they stick with it, they will spend hours trying to get food out of something.”

I dunno, is that intelligence or desperation? It’s possible that rural raccoons may be less interested in solving a difficult problem because they have other food sources that are easier to deal with and they aren’t as hungry as a city raccoon anyway. Nevertheless, the urban raccoon’s persistence results in learning. And Toronto is having a hard time staying ahead of them. Read about the city’s effort to outsmart the urban raccoon at Nautilus. -via Metafilter

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