You’re a lone immortal who’s decided to breed raccoons to a human-level intelligence (over the course of hundreds of thousands or millions of years). To do so, you need to both feed a significant population of raccoons, and select for intelligence & sociability.

You’re hoping to maintain a population of about a thousand raccoons, though more is certainly better. North America was likely settled by only about 70 people; human populations likely went through a number of bottlenecks, and genetic evidence suggests that human population at one point may have been as low as a thousand individuals, allowing for rapid differentiation. 1000 raccoons is therefore probably a reasonable target.

A large raccoon will weigh about 8kg. Assuming a raccoon needs about the same amount of food as a cat, they will need 13 kCal per kg per day, and so you need to produce 104,000 kCal per day to feed all the raccoons. Crickets are a good way to get this: there are 1.21 kCal per gram of cricket. One 20x20x20cm breeder box can produce 125 grams of crickets in 36 days. This means 4.2 kCal of cricket per box per day. This means you need to have about 25,000 breeder boxes, or 1000 square meters. To feed the crickets in turn, you need on the order of 150kg of biomass per day. Luckily, crickets aren’t picky, and the setting -- Northern California -- is filled with fertile ground. This seems like a plausible amount to collect as an individual, and some of the raccoons can eventually be trained to collect biomass and dump it in the cricket pit. You may do a little small-scale agriculture as well to supplement their diet -- apples could be used to reward raccoons for especially good behaviour -- but the bulk of their calorie intake will consist of crickets.

The raccoons will be kept in pens at first. Since raccoons are solitary by default, the pens will be individual initially, but as you breed your raccoons to be more sociable they will start living communally. Young will stay with their mothers for the first year, then be transferred into their own pens.

Food, in the form of crickets, will be placed inside a variety of puzzles. These puzzles will slowly increase in difficulty through the generations, and a fair bit of your time will be spent thinking up and building these puzzles. A simple puzzle might be needing to pull open a drawer. Generations down the line, these puzzles might be math problems. Given the problem 2+2, the raccoon must place a rock in the fourth slot. Other puzzles might require teamwork. You will give out some food personally as well: traits like friendliness will be rewarded.

Food will also be the proxy by which the raccoons are judged. Any raccoon that’s looking too skinny will be removed from the breeding population by releasing it into the wild. While most of these exiled raccoons will die, those that survive will disperse the genes you’ve been selecting for into the wild.

Genetic diversity will be maintained by regularly catching raccoons from the wild and inserting them into the population you’re raising: a dozen or so each year. You will also occasionally release a dozen of your smarter raccoons each year. If all of your raccoons are killed, hopefully you won’t have to restart from nothing.

Is this a plausible way to breed raccoons? If not, what are the flaws?

Further details:

  • I’m not interested in natural disasters, eg earthquakes, destroying the pens (these natural disasters form a plot point)
  • I only care about the relatively near term. As my raccoons grow in intelligence, the strategies will shift, so for the purposes of this question, these are pretty normal raccoons. In other words, you don’t have to worry about a raccoon uprising.
  • I’m most interested in structural problems that mean I’m not selecting for smart & social raccoons, and things that might kill off all my raccoons unrecoverably

Feel free to challenge this, but expected technology level is likely to be more or less medieval, since there won’t be the infrastructure for any precision machining:

  • Will be straightforward to do metalworking with copper, since there’s plenty of raw material in the form of wires and it’s been worked since ancient times
  • Should be possible to work with irons and steels as a solitary blacksmith
  • Can make concrete, but rebar will be prohibitively time consuming
  • You know modern chemistry, biology, and other sciences (reading & preserving this knowledge is one of the first things you do), but long-term you will only have the equipment you can produce yourself

It’s been nearly a year since all the humans on the planet mysteriously disappeared, leaving you alone in a decaying landscape. You are the only human left on earth, and you are immortal. There are a handful of tantalising clues scattered about labs in the San Francisco Bay Area. What few you can decipher point toward a massive puzzle too big to tackle on your own. You need other minds working on the problem, and the only way to get them is to make them: with biology. Knowing full well that it might take millions of years, you set out to selectively breed a new species to intelligence.

You don’t need to eat or drink, although you do feel hungry and thirsty. You do need to sleep for at least a few hours each night. Psychologically you’re fine, and even if you’re a bit lonely, you’re not going to go insane. Your memories do fade, but not past the point of a memory from five years ago or so. You can be wounded, but your wounds heal almost instantly. If a limb is severed, it dissolves and re-forms. No diseases can affect you, and physically you’re a 25 year old in peak health. You’re smart and well educated, but you aren’t a true genius. Even if you want to, you cannot die.

Followup to Best species to breed to intelligence

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    $\begingroup$ Personally I don't believe that they have the requisite number of tentacles. Nor are they squishy. +1 for the question though. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2019 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ What a hellish few millennia for the immortal - the obnoxious and selfish behavior of a thousand tiny children from dusk to dawn every night (they're nocturnal), no helpful companionship, and no vacation (they'll starve). $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH the OP is talking about the settlement of the Americas by an initial group of about 70 people 14 thousand years ago. The pre-Revolutionary War immigrants came a bit too late to make a difference. The link is clear about the timing. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ No don't use trigger happy vermin that talks to trees, you stand higher chance breeding octopus $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn :-) I'll admit, I didn't bother with the link. My point is that the issue is irrelevant. The number of people and their growth simply don't justify his perspective. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 5:38

5 Answers 5


I'm skeptical that intelligence (reasoning intelligence) can be bred

People have been trying to breed "better humans" forever. That Nazis were, perhaps, the most ruthless at it. It's an idea that's a SciFi staple ("Kaaaaahhhhn!"). But the reality is that reasoning intelligence is bred through a bazillion years of problem solving.

How do you find food? How do you protect yourself? From the weather? From your enemy? How do you attract that perfect mate? Yes, early on the "less intelligent" tend to fall by the wayside and not breed, but it doesn't take very long before intelligence requires more complex problem solving that requires communities — and finally leveraged study (writing, education, mathematics, etc.)

Could this happen with critters kept in pens? I don't believe it. What problems are they trying to solve? How do you even judge intellectual increase? Pens are what you would use to domesticate a creature, but to give it an evolutionary advantage you need to seed the population with solvable problems.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over....

I find it really hard to believe that any immortal could do this for very long and not go mad from boredom.

Rocket Racoon from the Marvel Universe, if I recall correctly, was a combination of genetic and cybernetic enhancements. To take this path would require labs — and labs require people. I don't believe one person could do it using the science path, if you chose to take that path.


I'm skeptical that this method (or any method not involving a genetics lab) could be believable. You'd need to be one psychologically stable person to even have a hope of doing it. And with a memory that bleeds over 5 years, you'd have a room of record books the size of Connecticut — and eventually you'd become vapor locked because you'd be spending all your time reading those books to remember what you'd done rather than doing any new work.

Yeah.... skeptical.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The Nazis might have wanted to try to breed better humans, but even apart from their fundamentally flawed definition of "better", they simply weren't in power for that long. 1933-1945 is not even one human generation. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf you missed my point. It's a trope. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 5:37
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    $\begingroup$ You missed mine, too :-) Trope or not, it's still false, and not even in the "Lies to children" sense. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf no, I didn't. I was specifically pointing out that authors and history have been using the trope for a long time. The fact that any one particular example doesn't fit the OP's "hundreds of thousands or millions of years" expectation is irrelevant (indeed, all the examples don't fit that expectation). It's a tired scifi idea. How inconsiderate to sweepingly call it a lie, when you're only complaint is the brevity of their efforts. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 18:12

I think your methods will not produce a human level intelligence in raccoons. You will succeed in producing raccoons with better memory, sharper perceptual acuity, better dexterity, possibly more effective puzzle solving skills but not human intelligence.

The other animals we share the planet with do not have the capacity to override basic drives. Think of these as instincts. Many of the creatures on Earth can reason to solve problems that involve mating, food, and survival. And, they don’t play chess — by that I mean they don’t do things for the intellectual pleasure or challenge.

But, if your experiments selected for lower aggressiveness and let the raccoons form communities — like the great apes — then they’d be able to be selected traits like Theory of Mind. I expect that that great leap would require mutation to be introduced into the raccoon brain. But, there are decent arguments that ToM is present to some degree in dogs and a less degree in cats. And, that suggests. the ToM evolves with social structures. Dogs have it more because we have been actively shaping their genetics for a long time. Cats are a relatively new species to human domestication — or possibly we are being cat-mesticated.

I think once you have Raccoon communities, and you start selecting for sociable traits, cooperation, and abstract thinking until you have a planet full of Rocket Raccoons.


You may end up with slightly smarter raccoons by this approach, but nothing bordering on what we'd practically call intelligence. For that you're going to have to set cooperative problems not individual ones.

You need to put multiple raccoons into every problem and have the problem only soluble if they all do the right thing, in time they all have to do the right thing in the right order. This will require them to communicate certain roles and could potentially lead to greater communication.

You'll then need to analyse and encourage tool use, from the basic poke it with a stick, to the more advanced find the right size stick to poke it with and ultimately, create the perfect stick.

From that point on, place them in an environment where all the food is larger or faster than them. No more tricks and puzzles, just antelope and buffalo.

You may have to start again a few times, but if nothing else, you have time.


I suspect you are aiming for failure.

You’re smart and well educated, but you aren’t a true genius.

Basically you are trying to breed a new species of raccoons to match your idea of intelligence. You are selecting them based on your own concept of intelligence, administering what looks like an IQ test taken from a paperback booklet.

In this way you will be eliminating any lateral thinking, creativity or whatsoever.

Moreover, you have to decide on the set up of this puzzles: do you want to allow for multiple attempts to answer (meaning that you won't reward the ability to reason for an answer), or do you want a single attempt (meaning that you have to design such a mechanism for every puzzle and you risk of starving your entire population).

Last but not least, you will have to design those puzzles. You will have to do it at the end of a day spent harvesting food for the crickets, when you will be tired, and hopefully you want to do better than a social media test titled "only true geniuses can solve this test".


Your method of breeding seems to be a little bit off.

You are saying that you release some smart ones into the wild while keeping the rest, but that is basically the opposite of what you want to do. Also, you don't want to bring in outside genes, because you haven't selected those.

What I would suggest is that you release the inadequate ones and let the more gifted ones stay. You select on a few choice criteria-

  • Social skills. This is a major part of human intelligence. We pass information between one another and use it to our advantage. This really will help your later efforts.

  • Communication. Try to teach your raccoons some form of sign language. As you select for intelligence, this will become easier. Once you have done that, set up a puzzle. It releases food into two rooms once solved, but only one room has the puzzle. Additionally, there is a glass dividing wall. Teach one raccoon how to solve it, and then put him in the room without the puzzle. Put another raccoon who doesn't know the puzzle into the other room, and see if they communicate. As the complexity of the puzzle increases, their communication will have to as well.

  • Intelligence, the simplest. Just use puzzles for this, and select for solving ability.

As this goes on, give them tasks. Not just puzzles, tasks. Teach them to do things like plant, farm, things like that. They will get smarter through this.

I don't know if raccoons can be bred to human levels of intelligence, I've never tried. But if they can, this is how to do it.


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