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NATURE: Raccoon Nation

Airs Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 8 p.m. & 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Two juvenile raccoons exploring

When the lights go down in cities across North America, another world is revealed, populated by shady little characters that live alongside us, but exist in the margins. These pint-size problem solvers are smart, adaptable and omnivorous, and they love a good challenge. Welcome to the world of urban raccoons.

A mother raccoon and her babies attempt to get into a shed.
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Above: A mother raccoon and her babies attempt to get into a shed.

An infrared camera captures raccoons getting into a garbage can.
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Above: An infrared camera captures raccoons getting into a garbage can.

With their busy little hands, they can do what other would-be urban animals can’t — open doors, get into attics, and raid secured trash cans. And they are especially fond of big cities, like Chicago, New York, and Toronto — the raccoon capital of the world. In cities everywhere, wherever they’ve been introduced, they have done very, very well.

Following a family of urban raccoons over the course of six months, and using high-definition cameras and intensive GPS tracking systems, “Raccoon Nation” reveals new insights about a species that is far more elusive and wily than most people ever imagined, and more destructive.

It seems that the more obstacles you throw in their way, the smarter they get. In an effort to outwit raccoons, we may be pushing their brain development and perhaps even sending them down a new evolutionary path.

One biologist who has been studying raccoons for 25 years believes the city life is in fact cultivating “über-raccoons,” ready to take over the world. Only time will tell just how advanced this “nation” of urban raccoons will become.

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Video

Nature: Raccoon Nation

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Above: Are human beings, in an effort to outwit raccoons, actually making them smarter and unwittingly contributing to their evolutionary success?

Video

Raccoon Nation: Web-Exclusive: The Importance of Play

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Above: This web exclusive video looks at the benefits of engaging in animal play, particularly for raccoons— teaching animals about how things work, the physics of the world, and what to do and what not to do.

Video

Raccoon Nation: Web-Exclusive: Filming Raccoons is Hard

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Above: In this web-exclusive video, Director and Executive Producer Susan Fleming discusses the trials and tribulations that come with trying to capture high-quality images of raccoons in the pitch black.

Video

Raccoon Nation: Web-Exclusive: A Sense of Curiosity

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Above: In this web exclusive video, experts discuss the connection between raccoon dexterity, their immense curiosity in objects, and their intelligence.

Video

Excerpt: Raccoon Nation: Living for the City

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Watch Living for the City on PBS. See more from Nature.

Above: How the raccoon’s intelligence, adaptable nature, and omnivorous diet all help the species thrive in urban landscapes from PBS NATURE’s "Raccoon Nation."