Skunks: Striped cats with an attitude!

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  • Photos by DON BARTLING Dens are made in tree hollows, hollowed out logs, brush piles, abandoned animal burrows, and underneath porches and other structures. Skunks will occasionally dig their own burrows underground if no other shelter options are available.

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    In addition to smell it is easy to identify the 6-10 pound skunk with his black and white stripe fur coat and strong forefeet and long claws.

  • Photos by DON BARTLING Dens are made in tree hollows, hollowed out logs, brush piles, abandoned animal burrows, and underneath porches and other structures. Skunks will occasionally dig their own burrows underground if no other shelter options are available.

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    In addition to smell it is easy to identify the 6-10 pound skunk with his black and white stripe fur coat and strong forefeet and long claws.

This past summer east of three mile on Highway 2, I saw a mother skunk trailed by five little striped kits crossing the road ... they were cute little stinkers. At the time I thought that was a sight at least as charming as ducklings following their mother. Skunks themselves are not revolting. It’s the pungent, oily, yellow-green liquid that they squirt that is revolting.

It is the skunk’s confidence in that potent defensive weapon that makes its personality appealing. The critters, the size of a small cat but with a wider rump and a bit of a waddle, are the opposite of aggressive. Most of the time they’re curious, playful, fearless, but a devil-may-care attitude does not serve them well on the highway. The poor creatures stick their tails straight up as a warning to a car. It doesn’t work; most of us know the smell of skunk musk from roadkill.

Before firing, a skunk will perform a complex warning dance, first backing away from a predator, tail raised as a warning flag, then stomping its front feet. Should the aggressor fail to get the hint, the striped skunk turns its body into an ominous curve, both nose and rear end pointed at the threat.

When face to face with an aggressor, the skunk aims a jet at the attacker’s eyes. When the predator is at a distance, the skunk sprays a mist up to 15 feet. Most who have been skunked say the smell is indescribably horrible, and many find it literally nauseating.

A skunk’s recognizable black-and-white markings have a role in defense. Predators learn and remember what the source of this unpleasant experience looks like. Most domestic dogs do not learn, so dog owners including me are the most likely to have had an intense skunk experience, especially if they allow their dogs off leash at night.

Skunks are nocturnal, so they are most active at night. A skunk has a short life — only three or four years in the wild before succumbing to disease, an owl (which has a very poor sense of smell), a very determined coyote, or a car which has it in the headlights.

Both sexes gorge in the fall before retreating to a den, not to hibernate, exactly, but to enter into a lethargic stage and crowd together for warmth. (The collective noun for a group of skunks is a huddle). For the remainder of the year, skunks are generally solitary, living and foraging alone. They normally have litters of 1-7 per year in late April through early June.

Skunks have strong forefeet and long nails, which make them excellent diggers. They dig holes in lawns, gardens and golf courses in search of food like grubs and earthworms. The most common and recognized skunk species in North America is the striped skunk, whose range extends from the southern half of Canada to the northernmost parts of Mexico, covering most of the continental United States.

Skunks are extremely adaptable and thrive in many different habitats, as long as food and shelter are available. Because they rarely travel more than 2 miles from their established dens, a skunk will typically settle down within 2 miles of a water source.

Enjoy Boundary County and all it has to offer!

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