Tanuki or a raccoon dog is neither a dog or a raccoon, it is only got that name because of the obvious appearance related reason. But if we had to decide, raccoon dog is actually closer to a dog than he is to a raccoon. This is because of the animal family it is a part of, the Canidae family, which also includes dogs, wolfs, foxes, and other dog like animals.
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Raccoon dog is also a part of the Japanese folklore where it is a symbol of good luck and wealth. In the Japanese culture, tanuki is considered to be a magical creature called bake danuki that has shape shifting abilities. Even though in their mystical stories bake danuki is a harmful demon, they also think tanukis bring wealth, and because of that belief there are tons of little tanuki figures that people buy hoping it will bring them good luck.
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If you thought an animal that looks like a raccoon and a dog is odd enough, than you got it wrong. Tanukis don’t bark like dogs, they actually sound more like cats. Because of their high pitched calling you might mistake a raccoon dog for a cat in case you don’t see it. They are also capable of meowing at a great variety of frequencies depending on what they want to say, weather they are hungry or just looking for a playmate.
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Raccoon dogs are also known to hibernate during the winter, which makes them unique in the Canidae family, since they are the only canids that actually hibernate. Their hibernation is not always necessary so sometimes, if the winter isn’t too harsh, they wont hibernate. But if they sense that the winter will be very cold with snowstorms, they will gradually start preparing for hibernation.
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Their preparations will start at the early winter before first snow storms start. When we say preparation for hibernating we basically mean getting fat, which is exactly what they are trying to do before winter. They will gradually increase their body fat by one quarter of their current fat weight. Tanukis that fail to do this usually don’t make i through the winter. The ones that do will be ready to hibernate in their burrows. When the hibernation process starts, their metabolism will decrease by roughly 25%, and they will usually stay like that until the beginning of February because at that time food becomes more accessible, and the mating period will soon start.
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Raccoon dogs are monogamous animals. Couples usually form in the autumn, before the hibernation process. When males are looking for their female partners it s not unusual for them to get in a fight over a female, but these fights are rarely fatal. Once a raccoon dog realizes he won’t be able to win the fight it will back down and let the other male take the female they were fighting over. Once the hibernation has ended, in the beginning of February, the mating season will start. Usually all males will already have a mate since Autumn.
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Females will be receptive for anywhere from few hours to a week, and than the oestrus process will start again in around 20 days. The whole mating period will last from early February to late April. Tanukis copulation lasts for a few minutes and they usually do it during the night or in the early morning, they repeat the process up to five times during one oestrus period.
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Once a female is pregnant, the gestation period last for about two months meaning the first pups will be born around late March or early April and the last ones will be born late may or even the beginning of June, although those are rare cases. After a gestation period 6 or 7 pups will be born. Male Tanukis make really good fathers, they will stay with the mother and take care of their offspring until they reach maturity.
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Mothers that are giving birth the first time will usually have only about 2 or 3 pups, and as they get older they will be able to give birth to more offspring. Even though they are monogamous animals, Raccoon dogs have displayed a different behavior when in captivity. It is not uncommon to see a male raccoon dog mate with 4 or 5 females in captivity, meaning their lifestyle in captive environment is very different than the one they live in the wild.
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Once young tanuki are born they will start to eat food after around 3 weeks. Since they are monogamous animals a mother and a father will raise the younglings together, the male goes out of the burrow and hunts for food and than brings it back to feed the female and their offspring. Pups will start to mature fast growing hair and teeth, and after around 4 or 5 months they will reach maturity and at around 8 or 10 months they will become sexually mature, and will start looking for their mate. They will live around 5 or 6 years, but that number isn't fixed since raccoon dogs in captivity live to be 11 years old.
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Raccoon dogs are omnivorous, they feed on insects and they also feed on vegetation. They mostly eat insects and rodents, sometimes fish and birds. One of the interesting facts about raccoon dogs is that only they can eat poisonous frogs. It is possible for them to eat these frogs with poisonous glands because they can start generating way more saliva on purpose in order to weaken down the toxins from the frog.
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Raccoon dogs have predators that they are afraid of just like any other animal. One of the biggest predators of raccoon dogs are actually members of the Canidae family themselves, wolfs. Another big predator for raccoon dogs are red foxes, although foxes usually attack pups of the raccoon dogs, but sometimes they will attack and adult male as well.
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