Yesterday, a scrawny raccoon captured hearts around the world as it attempted to scale the UBS tower in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The tiny creature seemed to have gotten stuck a few stories above the ground and decided that the way down was to keep heading up. Images of the little raccoon-that-could flooded the internet as the creature ascended the 25-story tower, taking frequent naps and breaks for grooming.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, it triumphantly climbed over the building’s top ledge, greeted with a cat food snack and a cage.
But climbing isn't the masked critter’s only talent. Here are five surprising facts about these impressive creatures:
They’re Astonishingly Adaptable
In recent decades, we've paved over the raccoons' natural habitat, turning woodlands into concrete jungles. Though many creatures have suffered the shift, the raccoon seems to be adapting—even surpassing its rural cousins in cunning.
That's the conclusion of 2014 work by Suzanne MacDonald, a psychology professor at York University near Toronto and a National Geographic Society explorer. In one test, MacDonald placed cat food in the bottom of a lidded trash can. When they smelled the delicacy, rural raccoons go to the bottom of the can, tracing the smell. But the urban raccoons went for the trash can lid.
"We’re constantly making new garbage cans and new locks, and if they want to survive, they have to figure out our stuff," she told National Geographic in 2014.
Raccoons Have a Super Sense
Though the tiny clawed paws of these ring-tailed bandits are great for climbing, they are also startlingly sensitive to touch.
Compared with most mammals, raccoons have four to five times more sensory cells in their paws.
And 75 percent of the part of their brain that processes sensory signals is devoted to touch.
"They can get an image of what an object is without even looking at it, so the raccoons actually see with their hands," MacDonald said in a previous interview.
They’re Crazy Clever
Crows are known for flying through the Aesop's Fable test: In one iteration of this famous trial, a bird is presented with a pitcher where the water level is too low to reach a treat with its beak. The birds must drop pebbles into the pitcher to raise the water level and nab their prize.
But a study published in 2017 suggests some raccoons are also adept at navigating the test.
Researchers placed marshmallows in a cylinder of water at a level too low to grab. They then demonstrated dropping stones into the vessel to raise the water level. Two of the eight tested repeated the action, successfully getting a sweet treat. The third raccoon surprised researchers by getting creative: The masked critter toppled the cylinder, retrieving its prize.
Raccoons Are Terrific Teachers
Many animals learn by imitating their mamas and raccoons are no exception. In 2015, a bystander captured a raccoon mother's repeated attempts at teaching her youngster to climb a tree.
In the video, the patient parent can be seen repositioning its kit on the tree multiple times, all the while ensuring it doesn't fall. And as yesterday's raccoon adventure shows, those climbing skills are vital for their survival both in and outside the forest.
Their Mask Has Good Reason
The raccoons' recognizable mask is not just for fun: It's a way to identify each other, according to MacDonald.
They were likely orphaned, looking for a companion. But MacDonald offered another possibility: "I mean, his face looks very 'raccoon-y,'" she said.