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Anatomy, Physiology, and Living Habitats of Red Panda


The Tanuki, also called the Japanese Racoon Dog, is a subspecies of the Asian Racoon Dog. In Japanese folklore, the Tanuki is a benevolent but sneaky rascal, which is why its statues, featuring giant testicles and wide-brim hats, are sprinkled across many Japanese cities and towns. The animal has also appeared in popular culture; it starred in the film “Pom Poko” and “Super Mario Brothers 3.” Tanuki is popular in Japan; it is domesticated there and in other parts of the world too by wealthy individuals. However, it is native to Asia and survives mostly in the wild (Akihito, Teduka, & Kawada, 2016). The “raccoon” part of its name is confusing to many; they think the animal is a common raccoon relative. Although Tanuki’s facial features resemble those of a raccoon, the two species are not closely related. Tanukis belong in the Canid family, with their close relatives being wolves, foxes, and domestic dogs (see Appendix 1). Some researchers have suggested that Tanukis be considered a separate species.

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Description of the Tanuki

Although all Tanukis are furry, they differ in distinct marking and coloring. The fur for some of these animals is brown with dark marks while for others, the coat is tan, grey, or silver. In all, the fur is soft, thick, and long; it grows even dense during the cold season. All Tanukis also feature fluffy tails that tend to be a shade darker than the rest of the body. Their facial features and fur contain dark markings that resemble those of a common raccoon; hence the name “raccoon dog.” The ears of the Tanuki are triangular with rounded or blunt edges (Enomoto, Saito, Yoshikawa, & Kaneko, 2018). Interestingly, although the Tanuki are dogs, they do not bark; they whine or growl like their wolverine relatives. A whining sound is a sign of comfort and submission while a growl is a sign of distress, anger, or danger. Also, unlike other dog species, Tanukis have flat molars and small canine teeth (Akihito et al., 2016). Given that they like to inhabit dense forests and river banks, this is not surprising.

When fully grown, Tanukis can measure up to about 28 inches in length and weigh up to about 15 pounds in the winter. Bodyweight may increase significantly at the beginning of winter (following intense summer feeding) before the animal goes to hibernation (Enomoto et al., 2018). Thus, Tanukis may look different from one season to another (both in size and color). For example, Tanuki fur tends to become thick and brown or brownish-grey in the winter and reddish in the summer. Although coloring may differ from one Tanuki to another, there is an observable color pattern in their bodies. For example, every individual Tanuki tends to have black stripes on their back that extend towards the shoulder where it widens to form a cross shape (Enomoto et al., 2018). Additionally, Tanukis have yellowish-brown bellies, elongated torsos, short ears, short legs, pointed snouts, and a stocky body. Other noticeable Tanuki features include dexterous front paws and curved claws. These features make it easy for the Tanuki to hold on to slippery prey (like fish) and climb trees. As if that is not enough, the Tanuki washes its food sometimes.

One can distinguish the Japanese Racoon Dog from any other dog by their small heads with pointed, low-profile rostra. Although the animal’s molars are relatively large, they have reduced carnassials and a total of 42 or 44 teeth. The dental formula is i 3/3, c 1/1, p 4/4, m 2 or 3/3 (Enomoto et al., 2018). Tanukis range in height from 38 to 51 centimeters and measure between 50 to 68 cm from the head to rump. The tail may be anything between 13 to 25 centimeters long. In the summer, the Tanuki’s weight will range from 4 to 6 kilograms and 6 to 10 kilograms in winter. Tanukis are found mostly in Japan, and they tend to be smaller than individuals located in Europe and other parts of the world. Tanuki has many relatives. That is, there are many subspecies of the Racoon Dog, which is why discrepancies between their body measurements and

Mating behavior

When it comes to mating, Tanukis are very interesting. For one, not much is known about their mating behaviors and seasons. However, these animals tend to maintain one mating partner for long periods. In some cases, Tanukis change their sexual partners once or so a year. Captive individuals tend to have multiple partners (Akihito et al., 2016). When Tanukis pair in the mating season, they remain so until the offspring have become independent. The mating season for the Tanukis starts between February and April when the animals have come from hibernation. Females are pregnant for 60 to 70 days and produce six to seven puppies and sometimes more (Akihito et al., 2016). Both parents take part in rearing and protecting the pups.

The puppies feed exclusively on the mother’s milk during the first month of life; after that, they supplement the milk with meat. At about four to five months, the puppies become independent and reach sexual maturity at eight to ten months. In the wild, Tanukis can live for between six and seven years in the wild and up to 11 years in captivity.

Characteristics and Features

Over the years, Tanukis have developed characteristics and features that have enabled them to survive in a harsh environment. The thick fur on the animal keeps it warm, especially during the cold season. The far is also useful for keeping the animal warm at night when it is most active (Tanukis are nocturnal animals and love to sleep during the day). The curved claws and dexterous paws help the animal to hold its prey well. It also helps the animal to forage around because Tanukis are carnivores. When looking for fruits and leaves, Tanukis use their claws and paws to climb trees. Tanukis also love to live near streams so that they can have unlimited access to fish. When the weather gets too cold, and rivers frozen, Tanukis hibernate (Akihito et al., 2016). The animal’s adaptation has made it flourish through the years such that its conservation status is “Least Concern.” Nonetheless, it has predators, which include wolves, birds of prey, badgers, and foxes (see Appendix 2).

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Impact of the human activities on the Tanuki

Human activities over the years have not had any significant impact on Tanuki. The only concern now is that human activities are changing the social behavior of these trickster dogs (see Appendix 3). For example, Tanukis are private animals, and their continued domestication affects their defecation routines (Enomoto et al., 2018) to relieve themselves. The captivity also impacts the social lives of the Tanukis; in zoos, Japanese Raccoon Dogs seem to have different cent communications. Notably, human activity has also affected the natural habitat of the Tanuki. The animal is native to Asia but has been introduced to Europe, the Americas, and other parts of the world. Consequently, they have now adapted to different environments. Luckily, so far, human activity is not a threat to the existence of the Tanuki.


  1. Akihito, S. T., Teduka, M., & Kawada, S. I. (2016). Long-term trends in food habits of the raccoon dog, Nyctereutes viverrinus, in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science Series A, 42, 143-161.
  2. Enomoto, T., Saito, M. U., Yoshikawa, M., & Kaneko, Y. (2018). Winter diet of the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in urban parks, central Tokyo. Mammal study, 43(4), 275-281.


Appendix 1: Taxonomic Classification (Domain Through Species)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Nyctereutes
Species: N. procyonoides
Subpecies:N. p. Viverrinus

Identification and common characteristics
COMMON NAME: Japanese Racoon Dog/Tanuki
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus
DIET: Omnivorous
SIZE: 50 to 68 cm from head to rump. (Tail is 13 to 25 cm long)
WEIGHT: 4 to 6 (up to 10) kilograms


Least Concern

Appendix 2: Food Web Figure

Food Web Figure
Figure 1. Food Web Figure

Appendix 3: Haiku

Unfamiliar eyes see a raccoon
I see a clever canine
in a raccoon’s clothing

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