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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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The Striped Skunk

This week’s article stinks! Whether you are an outdoors person or not we have all had the opportunity to whiff the little black and white critters greatest defense mechanism — scent. It’s not at all unusual to be driving down the road and encounter a fresh road killed skunk and depending on which way the

This week’s article stinks! Whether you are an outdoors person or not we have all had the opportunity to whiff the little black and white critters greatest defense mechanism — scent. It’s not at all unusual to be driving down the road and encounter a fresh road killed skunk and depending on which way the wind is blowing you may get the added treat of the skunk’s repulsive musk permeating the vehicle and your nostrils. The roadkill is about as close as most people will get to the repulsive odor, but on occasion, an encounter can be a lot more intimate.

I remember well a close encounter of the worst kind years ago when my goose-hunting buddy and I walked through a freshly plowed field well before daylight to reach our desired hunting location. It was so dark we could barely see each other as we plodded along kicking soft chunks of sod and dirt out of the way. As I kicked one particularly soft but heavy chunk of sod out of the way, it suddenly donned on me that it wasn’t a chunk of sod. What brought me to that realization was the sudden shower of liquid that hit me square in the face and all over the front of my camouflaged rain gear. The hunt came to an abrupt end followed by a lengthy discussion as to how I would make the three-mile trek home. We finally came to a compromise, and I was able to ride in the bed of his truck to get back home.

Getting into the house or anywhere near it was yet another challenge. My wife threw out a change of clothes, some plastic garbage bags and an assortment of soaps, detergents, sprays, and other household cleaning items. Hours later I was finally able to enter the house where I could at least shower a few times and immerse in a variety of deodorants.
A skunk’s only real defensive weapon is its well-developed scent glands that produce and store the highly offensive odor. If that were not repulsive enough you should know too that the glands lie beneath the skin on either side of the rectum; these glands have nozzle-like ducts, which protrude through the anus. A skunk can shoot musk about twelve feet but the truth is the spray is usually a last resort, but more often a skunk prefers to bluff an enemy instead by snarling and raising its tail. Obviously kicking one up alongside the head in the dead of night merits a much more significant action and not just a bluff.

A skunk’s musk is highly repellent to all mammals; it can even make a predator sick. If the liquid substance gets into an animal’s eyes, it can even cause temporary blindness. In spite of their potent musk predators like foxes, bobcats, coyotes and even domestic dogs — hopefully occasionally take them not your dog. Great horned owls, which lack a well-developed sense of smell apparently, are not bothered by the skunk’s musk.

While skunks can live in a variety of habitats, they tend to prefer mixed woods and brushland, fencerows and rolling weedy fields. Cornfields and freshly plowed fields are feeding areas (yeah, I know) where they find grasshoppers, grubs, beetles and other insects. They will also eat frogs, toads, spiders, snakes, lizards and mice, and even fruits and other plants. Skunks feed at night and may range up to a half-mile from their home burrow.

By the way, skunks are also fond of residential areas — my advice is if walking in the dark, don’t kick any big sods!

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