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The Mysterious Tanuki

Have you ever imagined taking two different animals and combining them into one brand new kind of creature? In one instance it seems like this actually came true. For the most part everyone has seen a dog. Although they may be a little harder to find, in most places in the world you might be able to see a raccoon. What would it look like if you combined the two? It seems as if Japan has everyone beat. Meet the Tanuki, a Japanese Raccoon Dog.

Although new to most of the world the Tanuki has been the subject of Japanese and Chinese folklore from ancient times. Japanese folklore depicts the Raccoon Dog in many different ways including a shapeshifting trickster, master of the mysterious, and in some stories they have the ability to possess humans for the purpose of singing. The Tanuki also found a spot in popular modern culture as a “tanooki suit” used by Super Mario in some of his later adventures. This suit gave Mario shapeshifting abilities to protect him from enemies.

There has been debates on what kind of animal this is, but it doesn’t share enough traits with either animal to be pinned down to just one species. It doesn’t bark like a dog and other than some distinct markings on the face it is believed to act more like a fox or a badger rather than a raccoon. There are a very limited number of these unique animals in captivity. Recently they have been added to the Red River Zoo in Fargo and The American Zoo and Aquarium Association in Atlanta Georgia. Now that it is visible for more people in the world maybe we can come to a universal conclusion and decide what kind of animal the Tanuki is. If it’s decided that it is a whole new kind of animal what would you name it?

Report: Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus. In the integrated Taxonomic Information System

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Eric Bender

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