Obedient raccoons are wonderful learners and potentially

Cities are brimming with exciting urban opportunities, and they are attractive not only to the human population. Many creatures happily share human settlements, feasting on easy picks. But what makes some creatures better suited to life on the urban fast track? “Several cognitive abilities have been suggested as being of particular interest to urban wildlife,” says Lauren Stanton of the University of California, Berkeley, USA, including learning from situations and adapting to change. But no one has determined how a particularly successful urban colonizer, the raccoon, might have stormed North American cities. While studying for her Ph.D. with Sarah Benson Amram at the University of Wyoming, USA, Stanton, with Eli Bridge (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Jost Huizinga (Open AI, USA), she embarked on an ambitious program to enter Presidents Urban Mammals to find out what makes a city great. The team publishes their finding that the least daring and most docile animals are the best learners of them Journal of Experimental Biology She points out that targeting the boldest raccoons when there is human conflict may exacerbate the problem, because the more submissive animals that remain are likely the real trash that can attack criminal masterminds.

“We used live traps with cat food to humanely capture the raccoons that live in Laramie, Wyoming,” says Stanton, who then took the animals to the lab to assess their health and well-being or obedience. Stanton then injected a small radio frequency identification tag between the animals’ shoulder blades to identify them individually before returning the animals to their native territory, tracking their impulse by recording each time the individual ended up in a trap again.

After tagging 204 raccoons between August 2015 and September 2019, Stanton and the team tested how well wild raccoons learn and adapt to change by locating a raccoon-sized cabin in the animal’s neighborhood, equipped with two buttons: one that released handfuls of tasty dog ​​food treats when pressed, The other does nothing. However, once each raccoon had overcome their fears and learned to climb inside the cabin and receive their edible reward, the team turned the tables on the animals, toggling the button that dispenses the dog food reward, to see how quickly the raccoons spotted the animals. they change. However, Stanton admits that she and her colleagues did not take into account the popularity of the raccoon cabin, where several animals often try to flock inside at once, bumping into and distracting a raccoon at the console while trying to get their food from dog food.

After two years of patience, 27 raccoons got the hang of visiting the cabin, with 19 of them figuring out how to press buttons to provide themselves with rewards, and 17 realizing they had to push the other button when the team tried to beat them. At first, the youngest raccoons seemed the most eager to explore the experimental cabin; However, adults were more prepared for adversity when the researchers switched console buttons. And when they examined the animals’ temperament, the less bold and more docile raccoons seemed to be better prepared to learn how to operate the console, suggesting a possible relationship between emotional reactivity and cognitive ability in raccoons, says Stanton.

However, when the researchers compared how raccoons on the outskirts of Laramie handled, compared to wild raccoons that tried their feet in a peaceful lab, the captive animals seemed to pick up the test more easily, ‘probably because there were more distractions,’ says Stanton. ` Interruptions during testing in normal conditions. The team is keen to see wildlife managers who deal with pesky urban raccoons learn from their experience, warning that going after more proactive and daring individuals may exacerbate problems, as quieter and more docile individuals may be the real criminal masterminds.


If reporting this story, please cite Journal of Experimental Biology as a source, and if reporting online, please send a link to: https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article-lookup/doi/10.1242/jeb.243726

Reference: Stanton, Los Angeles; Bridge, S.; Huizinga, J., and Benson; Amram, S.; (2022). The environmental, individual, and social traits of a free-range raccoon affect performance on a cognitive test. J. exp. Biol. 225JP 243726. doi: 10.1242/jeep.243726.

DOI:10.1242 / JP 244806

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