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Masked swimmers take to the water

Aquatic exploits natural as raccoons evade predators, search for new territory

News editor

It was a beautiful day for outdoor recreation Sunday, but there weren’t any swimmers taking advantage at the Cottonwood Point beach at Marion Reservoir.

However, around the next point north, there was an intrepid, furry paddler about 30 yards from shore, floating in the water, churning a slow but steady pace through light waves, making a beeline toward a shore about 200 yards distant.

It’s impossible to know what a normally nocturnal raccoon had in mind going for a swim in broad daylight, but swimming itself is common for raccoons.

“They’re very comfortable in the water,” state wildlife information officer Mike Miller said. “They find a lot of their food in creeks and rivers. They spend a lot of time in belly-deep water foraging.”

Swimming comes in handy when raccoons are trying to avoid predators. Miller said he’s read stories of people pursuing raccoons with hounds where the raccoons have taken to water to elude capture. While dogs can swim, too, many owners realize they might not fare well in a water-based battle with a raccoon.

“The raccoons could possibly drown the dogs,” Miller said.

More often, raccoons swim just to get from one place to another as they search for new habitat or sources of food, Miller said.

They don’t swim fast because their feet aren’t webbed, Miller said, although he didn’t know what a raccoon’s top speed would be.

Paddling with their small feet, it helps that raccoons ride high in the water, creating less resistance and allowing them to swim for long periods. Natural oils on their skin and fur could be a reason they float so well, Miller said.

“With most animals like that their fur is fairly oily,” he said. “They would have an oil element that would protect their skin from moisture and create buoyancy.”

Whatever causes a raccoon to go swimming, there’s something purposeful behind it, Miller said.

“They’re highly intelligent,” he said. “The water just doesn’t inhibit them from where they need to go.”

Last modified Nov. 5, 2015

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