Tanukis (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are mammals that closely resemble raccoons. However, tanukis are members of the canid family, which includes wolves and dogs; in some parts of Asia, actually, they’re commonly referred to as “raccoon dogs.” These omnivorous canids are non-confrontational creatures who prefer to hibernate during the harsh winter instead of aggressively competing for dwindling food sources.
Tanukis are similar in shape and features to foxes but have raccoon-like markings on their fur. The average adult weighs between 10 and 20 pounds and measures around 20 inches long. A tanuki's fur is thick and soft with long black guard hairs atop a medium-brown undercoat. He has a black-tipped bushy tail, and short, rounded ears. Like a raccoon, a tanuki’s eyes are piercing and rimmed in black.
Habitat and Range
Historically, tanukis were found throughout eastern Asia from Russia to Japan. Currently, most tanuki populations inhabit Japan and northern and western Europe, where they were widely introduced. Tanuki habitats include deciduous forests, evergreen forests, farmlands and coastal zones, but every tanuki habitat has one crucial aspect: a water source. They favor moist environments where berries, one of their favorite foods, grow in abundance. Moist forests also provide thick underbrush, which a tanuki readily uses to protect himself and his mate during winter hibernation.
Tanukis are social animals and generally live in pairs or small groups. They groom, sleep and hunt in pairs. As slow hunter-gatherers, a pair of tanukis has a much better chance of collecting berries, rodents, birds and eggs than they would on their own. Dependence and congeniality doesn’t end at the dinner table, though. Tanukis almost always hibernate in male-female pairs during the winter. During hibernation, pairs remain in physical contact with each other. Hibernation usually begins in November and ends in April in northern ranges.
Tanukis in the wild form monogamous pairs. Males compete for female affection during mating season, though this is typically non-violent and consists of scent-marking and male-female interaction. A female tanuki comes into heat once a year, after hibernating in April or May, and gives birth to an average litter of five to seven pups. Males take an active role in child rearing after the pups are weaned in 30 to 40 days; he watches over them while the female hunts.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.