Have you ever seen a raccoon that looks like it’s covering its eyes with its little hands? Those bandit-masked furballs can look cute and curious when they peek at you from behind their paws. But why do raccoons do this eye-covering behaviour? Is it shyness, caution, or something else that makes them cover up their gaze?
Why Do Raccoons Cover Their Eyes?
Raccoons cover their eyes for a few different reasons. Here are some of the main ones:
To Scope Out Potential Threats
One of the main reasons raccoons cover their eyes is to scope out potential threats while staying camouflaged. In the wild, raccoons have many predators to watch out for, like coyotes, bobcats, cougars, and dogs. They need to be very cautious and alert.
By peeping through their fingers, raccoons can secretly observe what’s going on around them. The hand covering acts as a blinder that blocks out extra distractions so they can focus their vision. It also allows them to watch closely without revealing that their eyes are open. This helps them spot any dangers before the dangers spot them first!
To Shade Their Eyes
Raccoons have great night vision but more sensitive daytime eyesight. Bright sunlight can be uncomfortable or even painful for their retinas. So when raccoons are out during the day, they’ll often use their hands to shade their eyes from harsh light.
The mask-like fur pattern around their eyes also helps absorb sunlight and prevent glare. By covering their eyes with their hands, raccoons create extra shade and protection to see more comfortably on sunny days.
To Relax and Unwind
Covering their eyes helps raccoons feel safe and secure so they can relax. In a sheltered spot with their eyes blocked, they can take a breather from constantly being on high alert.
You might see a raccoon cover its eyes while nestled in a tree hollow or curled up in a den. The darkness and privacy comfort them and allow them to unwind. It’s comparable to when you close your eyes to rest and recharge.
To Sleep Deeply
Along with resting, raccoons cover their eyes deeply when they want to sleep. Blocking out all light helps them snooze more soundly and sleep better.
Raccoons are most active at night, so daytime is for napping. You’ll often see them covering their eyes with their paws, forearms, or tails as they doze during daylight hours. The darker it is, the better they can slumber.
To Avoid Eye Contact
Prolonged direct eye contact can feel threatening for many wild animals, raccoons included. So when approached, they often hide their eyes to avoid an intense stare down.
Covering their eyes helps them disengage and de-escalate tense situations. It’s a self-soothing behaviour that calms their stress response when something startles or concerns them. They feel more secure being anonymous from the eyes up.
As a Submissive Gesture
The eyes are also the windows to the soul, which can reveal vulnerability. Raccoons cover their eyes when they want to appear non-threatening and humble.
This is especially true with potential mates, whiny cubs begging for food, or territorial disputes over resources. A raccoon may cover its eyes during interactions to signal it’s not looking for conflict.
For Extra Tactile Stimulation
Raccoons are tactile creatures that love touching and manipulating objects with ultra-sensitive front paws. So, covering their eyes likely provides nice tactile stimulation as their fingertips brush against their fur and skin.
The feeling may be comforting and self-soothing like a child sucking their thumb or petting a stuffed animal. Raccoons are constantly seeking out sensory input. Covering their eyes is an easy way to get more of it!
When Feeling Shy or Nervous
Raccoons masking their eyes with their hands can also indicate they feel apprehensive and shy. Since looking directly at something can seem intense, partially obstructing their vision gives them a buffer.
Do you know how social anxiety can make it hard to maintain eye contact? Raccoons experience something similar. Peeking through their fingers lets them check things out more cautiously until they feel bolder.
To Block Out Scary Stuff
Sometimes, raccoons cover their eyes during tense situations the way a frightened child might. By blocking out scary sights, they can feel more secure and less anxious.
For example, a raccoon might cover its eyes when a predator is nearby or a loud noise startles it. Not being able to see the fear-inducing thing makes it slightly less scary. The darkness and barrier create a sense of safety and separation.
To Play Peekaboo
Mama raccoons often play peekaboo games with their kits where they’ll cover their eyes, then reveal them again to delighted squeaks. This helps teach the babies that they can’t see you when someone’s eyes are covered, which is a fun game!
Raccoons also seem to enjoy mimicking the eye-covering behaviour they see in humans, the way dogs mimic smiling. So sometimes, covering their eyes is just them playing peekaboo because it gets a happy reaction.
Why Raccoons Use Their Hands to Cover Up
Raccoons use their nimble front paws to cover their eyes for a few reasons:
- They have thumbs and dexterous fingers perfect for grasping and manoeuvring objects.
- Their paws are conveniently located right by their face, making them easy to use as blinders.
- Raccoons are highly tactile and use their paws to interact with most things in their environment.
- Their paws have light fur that provides coverage without fully blocking their vision.
- They keep their paws very clean, so touching their face is no hygiene issue.
- Using paws allows them to shift around and adjust the amount of coverage.
- It just comes naturally to them as very handy animals!
Raccoons are such clever creatures, so it makes sense they’d use their built-in “handy” tools to block their eyes when needed!
Why Not Their Arms or Tail?
Raccoons sometimes use their tails or forearms to cover their eyes too. But their front paws seem most convenient and effective:
- Don’t open as wide to cover both eyes
- Fur is thicker, so vision can be too obstructed
- Can’t control tail as easily or target the perfect spot
- The tail is used for balance/climbing, so it can’t cover their eyes at the same time
- Less nimble than hands
- Don’t cup around eyes as easily
- It takes both arms to block vision entirely
- Fur is often thinner than on hands
- Hands already right there by the eyes!
So, while tails and forearms can work in a pinch, the raccoon hand is specially designed for eye covering. The dexterity, placement, and tactile fur make paws the perfect peeper blocker!
Do Other Animals Cover Their Eyes?
Raccoons aren’t the only animals that cover up their eyes. Some other creatures exhibit this behaviour, too:
- Dogs – Especially when tired/sleeping
- Cats – To relax or feel hidden
- Pandas – To avoid confrontation or when stressed
- Chimpanzees – For comfort and darkness
- Gorillas – When they feel threatened
- Rodents – To sleep, relax, or hide
- Bats – To shade their sensitive eyes from light
- Owls – To adjust from light to dark vision
So many animals find comfort and security in covering their eyes. Darkness equates to safety for many species when they need to drop their guard and rest. Tactile stimulation can be calming, too!
A Cute & Communicative Behaviour
The next time you spot a raccoon covering its eyes, you’ll know why they do it! It’s a way for them to feel more secure, get some privacy, play, and communicate non-verbally. Raccoons use eye covering cleverly and for a whole range of reasons.
So don’t be surprised if these bandit-eyed critters give you a shy peek from behind their paws. They’re just being cautious, sleepy, or maybe playing a friendly game of peekaboo!