A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
—John Amos Comenius
Raccoons are about the same size as a domestic cat, though they are generally somewhat larger. And there are videos on YouTube (such as this one), documenting the fact that wild male raccoons will voluntarily mate with cats.
Cats have also been known to nurse baby raccoons (see nursing video below). Under such circumstances, the baby coons would probably become imprinted on cats, so that they would be sexually attracted to cats when they reached maturity. (Imprinting is a widespread phenomenon in mammals and birds.) And in fact, this does occur (see mating video below).
So there is no absolute physical or behavior barrier that separates the two. But the question of physiological compatibility remains. Is it physiologically possible to produce actual cat-raccoon hybrids? One can only answer such questions by surveying reports. In other words, the scientific approach is to investigate what has been observed, and not to speculate about what might or not be possible. At present, there seem to be no efforts on the part of breeders to produce this cross, at least, none have reported it. However, older reports, mostly from the nineteenth century, suggest that it is in fact possible to produce cat-raccoon hybrids and that the Maine Coon breed of cat is derived from this cross. To confirm this conclusion, it will be necessary to replicate this cross under controlled conditions and/or carry out molecular genetic tests on putative hybrids. Until then, reports such as those quoted below constitute the only information available.
At least one report about this cross appeared in a scholarly publication. The American Naturalist is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, published by the University of Chicago Press on behalf of the American Society of Naturalists. The October 1871 issue of that publication (vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 660-661) contains the following account authored by Thomas Wentworth Higginson:
On the next page (p. 662) of the same issue of the American Naturalist there is a letter to Higginson appended from John Whipple Potter Jenks, the director of Brown University’s Museum of Natural History. It reads as follows:
An 1886 newspaper report provides specific information about such hybrids being bred in Maine. It appeared in many newspapers around the country that year, but the following transcript comes from page 5 (column 5) of the May 7, 1886 issue of the Wichita Daily Eagle, a newspaper published in Wichita, Kansas (source):
Since the fashion for lap dogs is fast giving place to the “pussy” craze, perhaps the society women of New York would like to know what a picturesque and curious species of the feline race we have up this way. The animal I refer to is the property of Mrs. Finley Hayes, of Greenbush. It is half raccoon and half Maltese [cat], and in appearance much resembles the coon, but the cat-like instincts are shown in her actions. The fur, which is a sort of a slate, reddish, brown and black in color, is long and bushy. The tail, unlike a cat’s, is wide and similar to that of a squirrel. The most curious characteristic is a natural fur collar about its neck, formed by the hair growing there much longer than on any part of the body. This unique animal is the mother of two kittens just toddling about and partaking largely of the peculiarities of the mother. It is said that Mrs. Hayes has had many large pecuniary offers for these very interesting offsprings, and for the mother the sum of $100 has been proffered.
A third report about hybridization of this type appears in a letter from biologist James Newton Baskett (1849-1925) entitled “Coon Cats” published in the Oct. 20, 1893 issue of the journal Science (vol. XXII, no. 559, p. 220): “Speaking of cats, I saw in a private house in Chicago recently, two cats which
An additional point of interest relating to the possibility of raccoon-cat hybrids is that, according to Wikipedia, one theory accounting for the origin of the Maine Coon breed of cat,
With regard to Wikipedia’s claim that a cat-raccoon hybrid is “genetically impossible,” it is well to remember that such claims have been made about many crosses that turned out to be possible when the cross was actually tried.
One example among many is the cross domestic pig x babirusa. Professional zookeepers, who were convinced that such a cross was impossible, placed a domestic pig together with a babirusa in a compound at the Copenhagen Zoo and were amazed when the pair produced perfectly viable hybrids. (At right are links to three articles about viable hybrids that conventional wisdom would describe as “impossible.”)
Claims that Maine coons are cat-raccoon hybrids abound in the older cat-breeding literature. For example, in the April 27, 1927 issue of the breeder’s periodical Cat Gossip (London, 1926-1932), the following is stated:
Such an account, for example appears on page 23 (column 7) of the January 27, 1901 issue of The Saint Paul Globe, a newspaper published in Saint Paul, Minnesota (source). The same story appeared in many other papers around the country. It read as follows:
Saturday Evening Post.
The rearing of coon-cats is a coming industry. Coon cats are worth today from $5 to $100 apiece, and the supply does not begin to meet the demand. Exceptional specimens have been known to fetch $200 or even $300. At the present time all of them come from Maine, simply for the reason that the breed is peculiar as yet to that state. Their popularity is such that the business of breeding them has been rapidly growing during the last few years in that part of the country, and one shipper, not very far from Bar Harbor [Maine], exported in 1899 no fewer than 3,000 of the animals.
Strange to say, there are comparatively few people south or west of New England who know what a “coon-cat” is. If you ask that question “down in Maine,” however, the citizens will seem surprised at your ignorance, and will explain to you, in a condescending way, that the creature in question is half raccoon—the descendant of a “cross between a ’coon and a common cat.” Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant runs not back to their beginning. You will find several of them in almost any village in that part of the world.
Descriptions of Maine coons on the internet list raccoon-like traits of these cats, even while dismissing the idea of raccoon-cat hybrids as “impossible.” For example, a website about Maine coons states that “both raccoons and Maine coons have lush, long tails and the tendency to dunk their food into their drinking water.”
Another website states that “Maine Coon cats often talk with a chirpy trill, which is not dissimilar to the sound of a young raccoon.” Hybrids from many different types of crosses produce vocalizations that are a mix of sounds otherwise uttered only separately by their two parents. (Such is the case, for example, with hybrids between White-handed Gibbon and Pileated Gibbon, which produced mixed calls having components characteristic of one or the other of their two parents.)
A third website says the
Raccoons and cats have identical chromosome counts, and similar karyotypes. Thus, Stanyon et al. (1993), after comparing the chromosomes of Felis catus with those of P. lotor, stated the following: “We propose a standardized karyotype for the raccoon (Procyon lotor; 2n = 38, FN 74) and compare it with that of the domestic cat (2n = 38, FN 72). Numerous chromosomes (12) have similar and sometimes identical G‐banding and 14 chromosome pairs have remained intact. Other chromosomes apparently differ by Robertsonian translocations and inversions. The conservation of these karyotypes is remarkable...”
Nevertheless, all too often, those unfamiliar with hybridization dismiss the possibility of a cross without empirical evaluation. The only unprejudiced way of resolving this issue in the present case is to mate a raccoon with a cat and then to see whether anything results (or to carry out artificial insemination). Genetic evaluation of existing Maine Coon cats in connection with this question might be difficult because, if they actually are of hybrid origin, they are probably the products of repeated backcrossing to cat (later-generation backcrosses are difficult to detect via genetic techniques).
A brief notice about a cat-raccoon hybrid appeared page 5 of the December 27, 1906 issue of The Lehi Banner, a newspaper published in Lehi, Utah (source). It read as follows:
The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.
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