A Raccoon-fox Hybrid?

Hybrids out of History



A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
John Amos Comenius
rafinesque Rafinesque

Red Fox Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Image: Wikipedia, Minette Layne

raccoon Northern Raccoon
Procyon lotor

Note: The North American Red Fox, also known as the Silver Fox, was long treated as a separate species (Vulpes fulva) from the European Red Fox, to which the epithet Vulpes vulpes was formerly restricted. But most authorities have lumped it with V. vulpes in recent years.

In an article on hybrids, the early American naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1821, p. 113; see also Rafinesque 1820, p. 86) says, “The aboriginal hunters of North America believe that the raccoon (Procyon lotor to naturalists) can breed with the red fox…I have seen a complete skin of the product of this cross. It resembles

the raccoon much more than the fox, having the head, teeth, feet, and so forth of the former, but the neck, size, and color of a black-tailed red fox. The black mask, so prominent in the raccoon, was missing, having been replaced by a mere faint tint of shading. The black tail rings [of the raccoon] were also absent. It is thus probable that this animal, which was fully adult, had been the product of a union between a raccoon and fox, both wild animals, differing in genus, family, and order. Yet, one could suppose perhaps that this specimen was simply a variety of raccoon, if the testimony of the aboriginal people, who know so well the habits of the animals of the forest, did not contradict that opinion. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]

The possible existence of such a hybrid is made somewhat more plausible by the known existence of an extant raccoon-canid intermediate, the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides). Raccoon dogs look like raccoons, but are classified in the same family as dogs, Canidae.

Raccoon dogs (see picture below) are native to the Far East and have become established also in Europe, where they are introduced. But their natural occurrence in the New World is unknown. So Rafinesque’s specimen cannot be explained away simply as an example of Nyctereutes, even though raccoon-dogs, just from their appearance, seem like plausible candidates for raccoon-fox hybrids.

Bartoszewicz (2011), an expert on raccoon dogs, says the raccoon (P. lotor) “looks very much like

the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides): The masked face, greyish fur and size are similar in both species. P. lotor’s head is wide with big eyes and pointed muzzle. One of the most distinguishing features of the raccoon is its black or almost black mask that fully surrounds the eye region, reaching from the cheeks across the eyes and muzzle, and extending down the muzzle and up to the forehead.

The red fox and the raccoon have similar chromosome counts (2n=34 and 2n=38, respectively).

Most hybrids reported by Rafinesque were rather mundane, but he did describe one other extremely unusual one.

dog-cow hybrid A dog-cow hybrid?

A related cross >>

Raccoon-cat hybrids >>

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Internet citations >>

Biology Dictionary >>

No, these aren’t raccoon-fox hybrids. They’re raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides): raccoon-fox hybrids Image: Wikimedia.

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