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Field Note: My War with the Raccoons

By Dr. Mike Kinsella

In 1973, I was attempting to study the community of parasites in three species of deer mice at Archbold Biological Station in the scrub of southern Florida. Populations were low and live trapping success was usually only 1 or 2%. But the real problem was that the raccoons (Procyon lotor) at ABS had become habituated to the peanut butter bait we used and adept at opening the traps. On one memorable night, I found 122 of 124 traps had been robbed by these furry bandits.

Mike Kinsella (and friend) at ABS in 1973. Photo by Don Forrester.

The only solution seemed to be to first trap the raccoons and put them in a holding cage. The station field tech, Chet Winegarner, and I soon had 7 raccoons in the cage, sometimes using a live trap inside a large mammal trap as bait. They just couldn't resist it. Then we went back to trapping the mice until we had a sufficient sample.

The plan had gone like clockwork until the time came to release the raccoons back into the habitats where they were caught. They were all in a wire enclosure about 6 by 12 feet with a corrugated tin roof. Chet's idea was that I would stand in the center of the cage holding the door of a large mammal trap open. He would chase the raccoons around the cage, pin them to the side with a piece of two by four, grab them by the tail, sling them into the trap, and I would slam the door shut. For reasons that elude me to this day, I agreed to this insane plan.

David Menke / Public domain

As we entered the cage, a hail storm started pounding on the tin roof. It was instant bedlam as Chet chased the snarling raccoons around the cage and I cowered in the center with my trap. But somehow, one by one, the raccoons went into the traps and we emerged a half hour later without a scratch between us. Unfortunately, this was the 70s and there was nobody around with a smartphone to record it.

I eventually got over my nightmares and this was the paper that resulted:

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