If at first you don't succeed, try, try again—and if that doesn't work, get some help from mom.
In a new YouTube video, a patient raccoon mother repeatedly nudges her youngster up a tree trunk until it figures out how to climb.
Jeffrey Reid shot the scene in his dad's backyard in Port Townsend, Washington, where he and his family watched the mother raccoon build a nest in the tree.
"It soon became clear that the mother was giving climbing lessons," Reid told National Geographic by email. (Also see "Watch: Mother Rabbit Viciously Attacks Snake—Find Out Why.")
Raccoons and many other animals learn by imitating their mothers, says Joseph Travis, a biologist at Florida State University.
"She's saying, 'Watch me, now you do it," Travis says. "The mother is going to keep putting it on the trunk until the kit figures it out."
In the video, the mother grabs the kit by the neck and repeatedly positions it on the tree, ensuring the baby doesn't fall. "It takes some trial and error by the offspring to get it right," Travis says.
Climbing trees is a vital skill for raccoons to escape predators such as wolves, which can't climb, says Sam Zeveloff, a raccoon expert and zoologist at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
Tree cavities in particular are "critical for raccoon success"—the North American mammals frequently nest in trees, a safe place for them to sleep and raise their young, Zeveloff says.
Lando McCall, wildlife specialist for the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C., thinks the mother raccoon's original nesting spot was disturbed by some human activity, which forced her to find a new den.
Two or three more kits could have been waiting their turn to scale the tree, he says.
According to McCall, the kit in the video is about four weeks old. "It looks a little too young to be climbing on its own," he says, adding that most raccoons learn how to climb at two months.
That's why the mother has to do most of the work, until the very end. With one final push, the kit finally clings onto the bark and slowly climbs up.
This mother's work is done—for now.
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