Raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

Source of the photo: 
http://blog.seniorennet.be/dierenopvoedster/archief.php?ID=1644
Author of the description: 
Pelikán Judit
Nyestkutya (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Nyctereutes
Species: N. procyonoides

Habitat

This animal origines from East Asia from the area surronded by the Amur river, China, North Vietnam. It was also dragged to west Russia in the 1920’s from where it has reached Skandinavia, Finland, Central Europe and nowdays it is also present in Switzerland and Netherlands. The first  raccoon dog was hunted is Hungary in 1961 in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county. Since then it appears sometimes.
They are present in many living areas, but they mostly like forests, where they can hide. They also like areas around rivers and lakes, where there is lot of reed.

Physical description

Lenght: 65-80 cm
Tail long: 15-25 cm
Weigh: in spring end summer 4-6 kg, in winter it can reach the 10 kg

It is not easy to recognize that it belongs to the family of dogs, because it’s face looks like the face of raccoon. That’s why it is called raccoon dog. It’s head is short and narrow, the ears are small, wide and roundish, it’s nose is peaked and allways wet. Its body is long, heavy and it has very weak legs. The tail is short, stumpy and bushy. The body is covered by yellowish, brownish hair. From the shoulders black stripes run to the front legs so the legs are covered with black hair. It’s colour is darker in the summer. The hair is dense, so it’s protect from the winter cold. It turns the tail into an inverted U shape, if it feels danger, or it’s social status is in danger.

Nutrition

It is omnivorous predator. It leaves home early evening and goes to hunt during the night alone. It returns home early morning. He is looking for food usually around trees and it’s nutrition is more complex then the nutrition of foxes or other dog kinds. There are a lot of animals and plants on it’s menu. The raccoon dog is slower and more careful hunter then other dog types. It does not run quickly, rather walks like a civet (musk-cat) and often jumps to one side. It usually goes on ice during the evening as foxes do. It usually goes on the regular way, makes smaller jumps than a fox, and jumps more often then it runs. It is not considered to be good hunter. For this reason it usually decides to hunt smaller animals, sometimes also eats toads, frogs, small birds and eggs. The majority of food consists of acorn, plants and different berrys. If there is a lake around, it sometimes also catches fish. He likes fish very much, it can eat 8-10 span long fish at one time. After catching fish it usually bites its head to secure it. It never cathes healthy fish, only dead or sick fish become its victims. Raccoon dogs that lives on the seaside, usually eat seainsects or crabs, but they also take carcass. In the winter they usually eat berrys, seeds and roots, while in the summer they also take insects, fish, reptiles and small mammals.

Behaviour, habits

This careful animal usually spends the day sleeping in his cave. So its enemies like wolfs, lynx and golden eagle do not threathend him. But actually human are it’s biggest enemy. It is active in the night, walks slowly, stops often. It builds its own home usually, but also like surrended fox caves or badger caves. Sometimes it happens that he builds its home in a cliff leak or a leak in a tree. It does not insist, lives in a wide territory, wonders a lot. In the winter it settles down close to the rivers while in the summer it can settle down almost anywhere. Sometimes it walks out during the day, but if there is any danger, it runs back to the hidding place.
It’s a social animal lives in small families and they spent the winter together. Each pair of family have there own territory which sometimes mixes with the territory of others.
Those animals which live in colder areas usually build fat during the summer, and spend the night sleeping. In these sapeces they look for a cave or bulid one. These caves are located as deep as they do not freeze. The long sleeping period last from November to March but on warm days it is interrupted and the raccoon dog looks for some food. The raccoon dog does not have quiescence.
The raccoon dog the only kind of dog which does not bark, it rather screams and grumbles. They do not climb on trees but move very well in the most bushy areas as well. They are the masters of hiding. They are afraid of humans.

Reproduction

Sexually mature: at age of 9-11 month
Breeding season: from February to April
Gestation period: 59-64 days
Litters: 2-15, usually 6-8
Lifespan: 6-7 years

They reproduce once in every year. The breeding season beginings from February to March, once they wake up after the winter. If a pair spends the winter together, that does not mean the male will not look for another female.
Gestation period has the same lenght in all living areas. Pups are born in between April and June and parents grow them up together.
One female can breed 15 pups, but usually 6-8. The newborn pups are blind, the hair is black and soft, and weight only 60-90 g. After 10-16 days teeth start to grow, and the eyes of the newborn pups are open. With the help of parents they move out of cave. The regular hair starts to develope after 4-6 weeks, but the hair of the pups is shorter and lighter than hair of the parents. The pups get solid food after 25-30 days, but they get seperated from the mum other only after 6-8 weeks. Parents teach them to hunt and fish.
In autumn they are ready to feed themselves. By this time They reach the size of the parents, but the hair is lighter.

Role in the ecosystem

It is an invadive speice which need intervention in order to the protect the ecosystem. It has a negative effect on the ecosystem: it changes the natural community of animals and they cause the decline of some specieses. As a new settler it is capable of fitting into the nutrition network which results in a change of the regular ecosystem. They reproduce very quickly and they have no natural enemies.
Some of the native predators in Hungary are competitors of it in the nutrition system. It’s settling not preferd. The growth of population is not effective by interspecific competition.
Predators living wild for spreading of rabies so raccoon dog is also responseble for it. In 1939 there was a big rabies epidemic coming from the north of Poland which was also caused by raccoon dog and red fox.

Protect status

It is not threatend and not protected in Hungary. It is present in big numbers everywhere except of Japan, where it has almost disapeared due to hunting in heavily.

Relationships with humans

Animals caught quickly get used to eat they are no longer wild but they are shy. At the begeaning they only eat when they think, no one sees them, but later on they so not care especially if they see fish.
In some places drum decoration and windbag are made of the skin of the raccoon dog. Japanese eat their meat and use bone for medical puorposes. In Siberia people also eat their meat and make clothes from their skin. It can be hunted all year long.