Raccoons are spreading across Earth—and climate change could help

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are best suited to riverine environments. Their scientific name translates to “before the dog,” and “washer” in Latin, referencing their habit of catching and washing food in rivers and water bodies. The name for them in German, Italian, and Japanese all roughly translate to “washing bear.”

First introduced into Germany in the 1930s, raccoons have dispersed to every surrounding country, west to Spain, south to Italy, and east to Poland. In Japan, they’ve been bounding their way through the islands of the country since the 1960s, and are found in at least 42 of the country’s 47 prefectures. There is another major population in Iran and Azerbaijan.

Part of the reason the mammals became a problem in Japan is due to a book and ensuing cartoon series called “Rascal,” featuring a cute raccoon, which became a hit in Japan in the 1970s. That spurred the importation of up to 1,500 animals per month for a time, though the country later banned the practice. But it was too late: Raccoons make terrible pets, and many of the animals were released into the wild.