Do Raccoons Have Opposable Thumbs?

There is almost no place in your house that is not accessible to a raccoon. Raccoons’ ability to open, tip over, tear off and grab whatever they put their eyes on is simply amazing. How can an animal with such tiny paws use its fingers in such a dexterous manner? Do raccoons have opposable thumbs?

If you’ve ever observed a raccoon’s footprints, you’ve noticed that the shape is very close to a human’s. At first glance, you might even mistake them for a child’s footprints. Raccoons in fact have five fingers like we do, and their thumbs look similar to ours. Considering the level of work a raccoon can accomplish with deft movements of its nimble fingers, it’s easy to imagine that raccoons have opposable thumbs like we do. Is that the case?

Do Raccoons Have Opposable Thumbs?

Do Raccoons Have Opposable Thumbs And All The Facts

Let’s pause a moment and consider what an opposable thumb is. Take a look at your hand and you will see a perfect example of an opposable thumb. You can move your thumb around and touch and press all the other fingertips with it. Thanks to this capability, your hand is very efficient when you grab objects or even when you do something as simple as writing. In the unlucky event that you injure your thumb and can’t use it for a while, you’ll realize just how much work you do with it.

But how do raccoons’ thumbs work? Raccoons can move their thumbs to some extent. A raccoon’s thumb can be moved to the center of the palm, and so can its pinkie finger. With this movement, raccoons can grab some small objects. But when it comes to using the thumb to touch and press the other fingertips, raccoons aren’t able. So the direct answer to the question “Do raccoons have opposable thumbs?” is no, raccoons do not have opposable thumbs.

Raccoons’ paws are not like those of many primates whose hands are similar to human hands. A primate has more agility and movement capability in its hands than a raccoon. If you get a chance to observe a raccoon during its activities, you’ll see, for example, that apart from small things, he needs two hands to manipulate objects. This is clear evidence that a raccoon’s thumbs are not opposable.

But that doesn’t mean raccoons’ fingers are any less capable of becoming a nuisance to you.

How A Raccoon’s Fingers Work

The paws of a raccoon have very impressive features that make the raccoon’s lack of opposable thumbs not a major problem. Let’s discover why.

The sense of touch is the most important sense for a raccoon. With its paws, a raccoon can identify objects using the vibrissae, a particular kind of tactile hair or whiskers that grows on its claws. The vibrissae are so sensitive that a raccoon can identify an object even before touching it.

A raccoon’s sense of touch is so critical that almost two-thirds of the sensorial area in the raccoon’s brain is dedicated to the interpretation of these tactile impulses. This explains why raccoons are always so busy touching everything with their hands, producing all the antic movements that make this animal so comical to observe.

But there is more to a raccoon’s paws. On the bottom, the feet are covered by a tiny horny layer to protect them. It has been observed that when wet, this layer becomes pliable. Now I know that we all love the image of a raccoon washing his meal in water and the idea that he is so fussy about food that he wants it to be spotless before putting it in his mouth. Unfortunately, that is probably just a myth, and we will keep cherishing it for what it is.

In reality, the reason why a raccoon washes its food is not completely understood and opinions differ. It most likely has to do with the horny layer on the bottom of the raccoon’s feet. When this layer becomes pliable, the raccoon’s sense of touch is enhanced and he’s able to gather an impressive quantity of information to get a clearer picture of what he is about to eat. This may explain raccoons’ funny habit of washing food.

Even though raccoons do not have opposable thumbs, they do have rotating feet. A raccoon can rotate its hind feet 180 degrees, which is very helpful when he has to climb or descend a tree. In particular, this rotation of the feet is what makes possible for a raccoon to go down a tree head first. Unluckily for you, the same feature makes it very easy for a raccoon to climb up and down your water spout if he decides to enter your house.

And when a raccoon decides to enter your house, he can really demonstrate all the power and dexterity he has in his fingers.

How Raccoons Use Their Hands In Your House

Raccoons are known to be very smart creatures. This quality combined with dexterous fingers makes raccoons capable of incredible feats — like entering your house in unexpected places.

Despite not having opposable thumbs, a raccoon has very powerful paws, and the claws they come with are great tools when it comes to tearing off or destroying things. For a raccoon, entering your house through a vent or via your chimney is as easy as drinking a glass of water if your home is not adequately protected.

Just let the raccoon find a weak spot in your house he can work on, such as siding that was not correctly installed, and he is even capable of tearing holes in your roof or in your walls. Never underestimate a raccoon’s ability to create a way into your house. That’s why it is always a good idea to regularly inspect your property if you live in an area populated by raccoons.

If they enter your house, either through a hole or using your pet door, you may be surprised by what they can do with their hands, and chances are you will not be at all amused. Their nimble fingers can open jars, doorknobs, latches and even the refrigerator. Not to mention the disaster they can unleash if they decide to settle in your house and use it as a den — they can literally ravage your home and cause extensive damage. Not too bad for an animal without opposable thumbs, right?

Raccoons’ paws are powerful tools they can use to carry out their daily activities. Even though raccoons do not have opposable thumbs, they have smart brains that help them use their fingers in surprising ways. They are capable of amusing you with their antics and upsetting you when they get way too close. If you want only to be entertained by this animal and avoid the nuisance of having a raccoon roaming around your home, learn here how to keep raccoons out of your house.