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Hibernators Week: Raccoon Dog (Tanuki) (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

Posted on Feb 6, 2009 by in Carnivores, Theme Weeks | 5 comments

Nyctereutes procyonoides
Number 0224

Guess what! The raccoon dog is not endangered. In fact, in some parts of its range, it is considered a nuisance! How exciting for us, don’t you think?

The raccoon dog is in the canid family, although it does resemble a raccoon, especially facially. It originally lived from Siberia to Vietnam, as well as throughout Japan, but it was introduced into Russia to provide more work for fur trappers. Now it has made its way into northern Europe, and has been found in France, Germany, Sweden, and Finland, among other countries. It is the only canid that hibernates (torpor, I think, not “true” hibernation), although in warmer parts of its range, it doesn’t.

In Japan, where the raccoon dog is called the tanuki, the species is pretty common and can even be found in some urban areas. The tanuki is an interesting figure in Japanese folklore. It’s a shapeshifter and a bit of a trickster, and tanuki statues can bring good luck. The most interesting and, to me, strange element of the tanuki legend is the animal’s remarkably large scrotum, which it can use—in myths and stories now, not in real life!—as shelter from a storm or as a net for catching fish. I recommend this baffling series of 19th-century comic prints that show some of the tanuki’s creative uses for its endowments.


  1. Im am so tired of people calling certain animals nuisance. They were here first we invaded them. They do what they have to to survive. There is no excuse for this. This needs to stop. Someone has to stand up and take responsiblity. Im speaking for the animals. Mparent

  2. Beautiful drawings and great project! I agree that the fur thing needs to stop.

  3. Mlisitski,

    Well, I probably was overly glib in my excitement about this animal being considered a “nuisance.” In case you’re not a regular reader, you should know that my facetiousness came from my endless discouragement at how often the mammals I draw are terribly endangered. It’s refreshing to have one with a healthy population.

    It’s not always true, though, that “they were here first” or that “we invaded them.” In the case of the raccoon dog, for instance, it is considered a “nuisance” in the parts of its range where it was introduced, not where it occurred originally. In cases like, say, a western U.S. city overgrowing to the point where bears and coyotes are having to come into town, thus making “nuisances” of themselves, I certainly agree with you that we’re the nuisances. In other cases, an animal becomes a “nuisance” because we humans have killed off its natural predators, often because we felt they threatened our livestock. There are no easy answers for how we can share the increasingly crowded earth with other animals, but I agree with you that they have just as much business being here as we do. (And I am also against fur, needless to say.)

    Red Star Café, thank you! I enjoy your site, too, and thanks for the link.

  4. After our discussion about all the endangered animals, it is great that you featured one that is not endangered!!

  5. These guys are the stars of the wonderful Hayao Miyazaki film Pom Poko — it’s a crazy environmental fable with a bitter-sweet ending.

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