Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Raccoons, Procyon lotor,
mating on a tree limb in Central Park, NYC — in front of the children!

Image: Bob Levy, author of Club George. [larger size].


The photographer writes:

I hope its not too late to ask the kids to leave the room. If not, you might have to launch into your long dreaded and delayed explanation of the “birds and the bees.” This arguably voyeuristic and slightly out of focus image was taken in Central Park at the height of the Northeastern Raccoon mating season.

In my continually expanding search for Brownie, my favorite raccoon of whom I have written before, I found at least six individual animals often congregating in a well defined area whose center is a large oak. On this particular evening I heard the mating call of a female emanating from a spot I had witnessed a coupling three nights earlier and returned there to find another mating was in progress. If you are not familiar with the female’s mating call you might think, as I initially had, that the creature was in the throes of an agonizing death. On the contrary this blood curdling sound signals the start of couplings of the raccoon kind.

As far as I could tell the two pictured had an uneventful if enthusiastic encounter. The poor image focus testifies to the amount of motion they exhibited. After witnessing five distinct bouts of the act I had walked away feeling vaguely well, er, envious of their stamina. From a hundred feet away I again her the female’s call indicating that a sixth round was underway. I was even more impressed.

Three nights later I was back at the same spot witnessing more mating behaviors. There was no way to know if the participants were the same. After they went their separate ways I observed the male’s rejection by another female and her subsequent selection of a second male that appeared on the scene.

She unambiguously welcomed his arrival by gracefully waving her bushy tail and calling to him from thirty feet above the ground. Her rejected would be lover left as the second male climbed up to her. He wasted no time responding to her overture. As he got behind her she turned her head toward his and they both jerkily pressed their snouts together and made a series of snarly sounds. Then she sang out another chorus of her mating call and copulation began.

I remember thinking to myself that these two had selected a poor location. The branch on which they stood was very thin. As the thought passed I heard a short sharp crack. The branch snapped off and the male dropped toward the ground. I gasped and shouted “NO!” out loud as he plummeted but to my — and no doubt his — relief, his fall was stopped by another thin branch about ten feet below. It seemed the crisis had passed but then a second short sharp crack rang out. The male dropped another twenty feet and he smacked into the ground with a heavy thud. It was too dark to see precisely where he had landed and I expected the worst because there were several large rocks around the base of the tree. I pulled a flashlight out of my pocket, rushed to a better vantage point and scanned area but did not see him. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected movement a few yards away and to my amazement saw the victim walk away into the brush and out of sight. I can only hope that he did not suffer any serious injuries but it’s hard to believe that there would not repercussions from such a fall.

And where was the female and the other male after this mishap? They had vanished. I imagine they had been so frightened by what happened that they fled out of confused fear for their own lives.

And the moral of the story? … (Brace yourself) … I trust the couple had learned an invaluable lesson about selecting an appropriate place to mate. In fact … (here it comes) … from now on I hope they practice safe sex.

Comments

  1. #1 David Harmon
    February 26, 2008

    Ooo, that’s funny! My intuition is that for an animal that size, a twenty-foot fall probably wouldn’t hurt him too badly, but it sure wouldn’t be fun. No wonder he decided to pack it in for the evening! (The full thirty-foot fall would have been dicier.)

  2. #2 Tina Rhea
    February 27, 2008

    Talk about coitus interruptus…. I hope he’s okay.

    I read of a female chimpanzee who was observed mating thirty times in an hour with five different males, and then headed off into the bushes with the youngest one. Lionesses are also pretty demanding, and those within a pride tend to come into heat around the same time, which is why several adult brother lions can live together in a pride with little friction. But I’m not sure how much fun it is when you need it that badly….

  3. #3 Suricou Raven
    February 28, 2008

    Unfortunatly I have met some people on the blogs who are so afraid of sex that their response to this picture would be to call for all racoons in the city to be killed purely to ensure no children would be perminantly scarred by the sight of mating.

    I am not exaggerating.

  4. #4 Diane
    March 15, 2008

    Last evening we heard a blood-curdling scream (screech) coming from the woods behind our house. We were concerned that one of our “critters” might be hurt, so we ventured out with flashlights through the woods, only to find nothing (a neighbor was also in her yard trying to determine the sound).
    We learned today that deer “bark” having viewed videos and thought that may be what we heard. While two of us were searching the web, seperately, to learn more, we heard the sound again. We ran out with the flashlights, only to discover two raccoons in the tree in our yard. I guess we interupted them, as my fiancee coaxed the fat one down and back into the woods! At least we know what it was now.

  5. #5 Diane
    March 15, 2008

    Last evening we heard a blood-curdling scream (screech) coming from the woods behind our house. We were concerned that one of our “critters” might be hurt, so we ventured out with flashlights through the woods, only to find nothing (a neighbor was also in her yard trying to determine the sound).
    We learned today that deer “bark” having viewed videos and thought that may be what we heard. While two of us were searching the web, seperately, to learn more, we heard the sound again. We ran out with the flashlights, only to discover two raccoons in the tree in our yard. I guess we interupted them, as my fiancee coaxed the fat one down and back into the woods! At least we know what it was now.

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