Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Maternal Response to Conspecific Visits at Natal Dens in Raccoons (Procyon Lotor)

Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Maternal Response to Conspecific Visits at Natal Dens in Raccoons (Procyon Lotor)

Article excerpt


The response of postparturient females to conspecifics at the natal den can provide insights into intraspecific dynamics, particularly the risk of infanticide. In solitary species, the risk of infanticide may be high and mothers are expected to secure dependent young in dens and tolerate little, if any visitation by males. We monitored 10 male raccoons (Procyon lotor) and 11 females from pregnancy through lactation that were equipped with proximity detecting collars during the neonate rearing period (Apr.-Jul.). Natal den trees were identified and proximity detectors were also attached to these trees to document the mother's movements and visitation by conspecifics. A total of 21 den trees (1-8 dens/ mother) were used, yielding 337 den-nights of data. Besides those of the mother, 284 visits (0-2.9 visits/night) were recorded and dens were visited by three to 10 individuals. Time spent away from the den by the mother increased with litter age (F = 45.36, P < 0.001, R^sup 2^ = 0.19). Females who moved their litters from the primary natal den tended to receive more (t = -1.99, P = 0.08, df = 8) male visits/night before their move, than females that stayed in the primary natal den. Males also visited natal den trees more often (t = 2.26, P = 0.05, df = 7) when a natal family was occupying the den tree than once the family had stopped using the den tree. We were unable to examine den trees that were abandoned by their mothers, but our data suggested that female raccoons are intolerant of adult males at natal dens while raising their litters. This may be a response to the risk of male-driven infanticide.


Parental behavior during the neonate rearing period can provide information regarding many aspects of maternal activity, the development of young and the status of intraspecific conflict within a population (Meikle and Westberg, 2001; Stoinski et al., 2003). Among most mammalian species, females rear young without the assistance of others. This presents mothers with the challenge of balancing the care of their young with their own needs, including for den-dwelling species moderating time at the den versus foraging time, which leaves young unattended. Therefore, mothers with altricial young may select secure locations to rear young that offer protection from weather, predators and possibly conspecifics. Mothers may also exhibit behavioral changes that increase the likelihood of their offspring's survival; they often become more secretive and intolerant of other species and conspecifics, which may further reduce the risk of predation, disease transmission and infanticide (Butynski, 1982; Ebensperger, 1998).

Infanticide may represent an important selective agent for postparturient females. Infanticide has been documented in 91 mammalian species under laboratory conditions or in the wild, of which 35% occurred in free-ranging Carnivora (Ebensperger, 1998). Maledriven infanticide occurs most often in species that are highly monogamous or polygamous (van Schaik, 2000; Wolff and Macdonald, 2004), and can be viewed as a reproductive strategy when the loss of a Utter causes the female to return to estrus sooner dian if the young had been successfully weaned (Hrdy, 1979; van Schieck, 2000). Because the destruction of young may incur benefits to males but disadvantage females, females have evolved multiple counter strategies to infanticide, including secondary estrus cycles for seasonal breeders (Hrdy, 1979), maternal aggression (Parmigiani et al, 1989), and promiscuity (Hrdy, 1974) . Due to the secretive habits of most solitary mammals, however, infanticide is difficult to document in the wild and its relative importance in terms of neonate survival, as well as its impact on adult behavior is unknown.

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a nocturnal, semi-arboreal carnivore, which makes direct observation difficult; however, some potentially protective aspects of female behavior have been documented. …

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