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Head to hindquarters, raccoons measure between 40 and 70 cm (16 and 28 in), not including the bushy tail which can measure between 20 and 40 cm (8 and 16 in), but is usually not much longer than 25 cm (10 in).The body weight of an adult raccoon varies considerably with habitat, making the raccoon one of the most variably sized mammals.Its grayish coat mostly consists of dense underfur which insulates it against cold weather.Three of the raccoon's most distinctive features are its extremely dexterous front paws, its facial mask, and its ringed tail, which are themes in the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.It was recorded on John Smith's list of Powhatan words as aroughcun, and on that of William Strachey as arathkone.In the 1830s, the United States Whig Party used the raccoon as an emblem, causing them to be pejoratively known as "coons" by their political opponents, who saw them as too sympathetic to African-Americans.Though previously thought to be generally solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behavior.
The word "raccoon" was adopted into English from the native Powhatan term, as used in the Colony of Virginia.
Upper Mississippi and Missouri River drainage areas from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains east to Lake Michigan, and from southern Manitoba and probably southwestern Ontario and southeastern Alberta south to southern Oklahoma and Arkansas.
California, except extreme northwest coastal strip, the northeastern corner and southeastern desert region, ranging south through northwestern Baja California to San Quintin; extreme westcentral Nevada.
Soon after that the term became an ethnic slur, In the first decades after its discovery by the members of the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who was the first person to leave a written record about the species, taxonomists thought the raccoon was related to many different species, including dogs, cats, badgers and particularly bears.
Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, placed the raccoon in the genus Ursus, first as Ursus cauda elongata ("long-tailed bear") in the second edition of his Systema Naturae (1740), then as Ursus Lotor ("washer bear") in the tenth edition (1758–59).