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Tanuki May Be Called 'Raccoon Dogs' But They Are A Million Times Cuter

The animal in these photos may look like a particularly fluffy raccoon, but it's actually completely unrelated to the animal it closely resembles. It's a tanuki.

And that's a shame, because tanuki are fluffy and adorable and weird all on their own.

It doesn't help that the common name for them outside of Japan is "raccoon dog."

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That name comes from the fact that they are actually members of the canine family, but their coloring makes them look like an average common raccoon.

This confusion has only been increased due to many Western releases of Japanese media opting to simply call tanuki raccoons.

(Obsessed with the new Animal Crossing? Tim Nook is a tanuki, not a raccoon. It's even hinted at in his name!)

Tanuki have a long history in Japanese folklore, where they are seen as a shapeshifting trickster god.

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You know how in the Super Mario games, you could get a "tanooki suit" that would let you fly, flutter jump, spin, or turn into a statue (depending on the game)? Sometimes, you could get a version by catching a Super Leaf too.

Besides being the cutest Mario power-up, it was an ode to the folklore. Tanuki statues are found all over Japan and stories often employ a magic leaf for the tanuki to transform.

"Raccoon dogs" are now found commonly in many European countries, but they are an invasive species.

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This is due to the Soviet Union releasing thousands of them between 1928–1958, reportedly in an effort to improve the quality of the fur trade. Due to their invasive status, it is legal to hunt them in many countries.

Meanwhile, in Japan, they are both admired and a pretty common pest.

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Still, I love them. They have the cuteness of a raccoon's masked face, but with a ton of extra floof and no creepy human-like hands. It's a win-win-win!

h/t:Atlas Obscura, Earth Touch News

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