In “Raccoon Hands and Their Amazing Sense Of Touch,” Bill Dowd writes:
While other mammals do have paws that enable them to hold food and make nests, A raccoon’s hands are quite unique and especially dexterous. These mammals use their hands for a variety of tasks, including:
-Wetting food and other objects to gauge their usefulness
-Opening bins and trash can lids
-Gripping slippery items
Raccoons can gather a great deal of information simply by wetting objects, as their hands become even more sensitive when they handle these items. Each hand includes five fingers but no opposable thumb, which means raccoons cannot grip things the way human hands can, but they can hold food and other objects in both paws to manipulate them with much greater ease than other mammals, such as your pet dog or cat. Each finger includes a nail or claw, which makes raccoons adept climbers.
Even without an opposable thumb, the shape of a raccoon’s hands and fingers allow it to gather much information about its environment. A raccoon’s brain is highly specialized to interpret tactile impressions, with approximately two-thirds of the sensory perception area of the cerebral cortex devoted to that purpose. The raccoon’s paws are well-equipped to collect tactile information for the cerebral cortex to interpret. Raccoons are omnivores, and the seven species that live in North America eat a wide variety of food depending on what each season brings. This includes berries, nuts, insects, fish, crayfish, frogs, and even small rodents like mice and young rabbits. The shape and length of their fingers allow sensory cells on the forepaws to detect changes in pressure and other mechanical stimuli to discover whether a discovered object is edible. These cells, known as mechanoreceptors, are also present in human hands. Raccoons also have stiff hairs called vibrissae at the tips of each front toe above the claw. These are similar to cats’ whiskers and allow raccoons to identify an object without even making contact with its paw.