What is a Raccoon Dog?
By Jade Kerr - July 21, 2023

The raccoon dog, also known as the tanuki, is a species of canid native to East Asia. It is found in parts of China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Despite its name, it is not closely related to either the raccoons or canine family; rather it belongs to its own separate taxonomic group called Nyctereutes which contains only one other species – the Asian Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides). The raccoon dog has a long history in culture and folklore across much of Eastern Asia where it has been an important character for centuries.

The physical characteristics of the raccoon dog are quite distinctive from other members of both the canine and mustelid families. They have long bodies with short legs and thick fur that ranges in color from yellowish-brown to black with white markings on their chest and face resembling those seen on many species of raccoons. Their eyes are large compared to their head size giving them good night vision while they also have sharp claws which help them climb trees if needed. In terms of diet, they are omnivorous eating anything from fruits, nuts, and insects to small mammals such as mice or voles when they can find them.

Getty Images/ Moment/ Alvin Huang

The raccoon dog is an incredibly versatile species that has been captured in folklore and culture for centuries, particularly in Japan where they are known as tanuki. In Japanese legend, they are seen as mischievous creatures with magical powers who will sometimes take on the form of humans or other animals. They are also seen as generous, kind, and loyal making them popular characters in folktales. In modern Japan, they have become symbols of good luck and prosperity with many statues of tanuki being found outside shops and restaurants to bring customers luck.

Raccoon dogs do face threats from human activity such as hunting, trapping, and habitat destruction. They are also vulnerable to diseases such as distemper which can be particularly damaging for their populations in the wild. Despite this, they remain a common species across much of East Asia, although their actual numbers are difficult to estimate due to their secretive nature. With proper protection and conservation efforts, these unique animals can continue to live in their natural habitats and bring joy to people across the world.