Hello, fans of canids! I wasn't able to write this up last night because I had to work late and then make my "No Soliciting" sign. Just as a quick note, while I was researching this Woof, doing an image search brought up a lot of graphic and potentially disturbing pictures of skinned Raccoon Dogs, which are both hunted and farmed for their fur (more on that later). Seriously, if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, use caution if you want to learn more about them.
The Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) is a small canid that is the only extant species of the genus Nyctereutes, and it is indigenous to eastern Asia. It gets its name from its striking resemblance to raccoons, but despite its appearance the two species are not at all closely related. Although the Raccoon Dog's natural home is East Asia, it has been introduced to other ranges in attempts to farm it and improve the quality of its fur. These attempts have been both unsuccessful and too successful - in some areas, the Raccoon Dogs didn't thrive. In others, they became an invasive species, throwing the local ecosystem out of balance.
Raccoon Dogs have long bodies, growing up to 28 inches (71 cm) in body length, with a short 7 inch (18 cm) tail. Their body weight fluctuates seasonally - in the spring, they weigh an average of 6.6 pounds (3 Kg). In the fall, they bulk up to 15 pounds (7 Kg). Raccoon Dogs are the only canids known to hibernate, which is why they have to put on the weight for winter. Individuals who fail to reach a 18-23% increase in subcutaneous fat and a 3-5% increase in internal fat are unlikely to survive the winter.
Raccoon Dogs are omnivorous, which means that they will eat almost anything. This "anything" includes insects, rodents and small mammals, fish, molluscs, birds, amphibians, reptiles - and they will even scavenge carrion. The plants they eat vary on their range, but can include fruits, grains, bulbs and roots. In order to put on their winter weight, they will eat meat almost exclusively. The vegetation in their diet is incorporated during the spring. They don't bark, but they do whine and growl.
There are five recognized subspecies of Raccoon Dog:
- Nyctereutes procyonoides procyonoides (southeast Asia)
- Nyctereutes procyonoides koreensis (Korea)
- Nyctereutes procyonoides orestes (Yunnan)
- Nyctereutes procyonoides ussuriensis (Russia)
- Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus (Japan)
Female Raccoon Dogs will give birth to a litter of around six pups, although litter sizes of up to fifteen have been documented. The gestation period lasts 61 to 70 days. Raccoon Dogs form monogamous mating pairs, and males are very involved in the raising of their pups.
Raccoon Dogs are most hunted for the coats they wear right before they begin hibernation, from November until the snow makes hunting virtually impossible. Raccoon Dog fur that is used on clothing is called "murmansky fur." Of the subspecies, N. p. viverrinus is considered to have the silkiest fur, and is therefore the most sought-after. There have been more than a few incidents in which clothing that advertises being made with faux fur has actually been made with Raccoon Dog fur. It's not illegal to sell clothing made with Raccoon Dog fur, but it is illegal to mis-label it as faux fur. So pay attention to your labels.