The common raccoon's scientific name is Procyon lotor. The name means "doglike washer" and refers to the animal's habit of fishing or washing with its forepaws, as does "raccoon," which is the English version of a Powhatan Indian word.
Raccoons belong to the family Procyonidae and are closely related to coatis, ringtails and cacomistles. Evolutionary biologists believe that the family arose about 25 million years ago in the late Oligocene epoch. Modern raccoons are widely distributed throughout North and Central America and have been naturalized in some parts of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains and Japan. They adapt readily to living near people but are sometimes garden pests and can carry rabies.