Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

The Kritter Korner - The Skunk

 

This months' animal is everybody's favorite "little stinker" the Skunk. The striped skunk is a cat-sized mammal, and is fearless. Skunks are not only fearless but supermen that are immune to venomous snakes. They are the most common member of the Mustelidae family: Weasels, Minks, Badgers, and Otters.

They are easily recognized by their characteristic thick, glossy black fur and the white stripe that extends posteriorly from its head to its bushy tail. It has a small head and short legs with plantigrade feet. Striped skunks vary in weight (8-12 lbs) and length with the tail being 12-15 inches. Males are generally 10% larger than females.

They are best known for their unique odor (Mephitis is Latin for bad odor). Although not an aggressive animal, when provoked both sexes release musk from well-developed scent glands located on either side of the anus at the base of the tail. At close range, the strong odor causes severe tearing of the eyes and, in some cases, nausea. They can spray up to 10-15 feet. The sticky secretion is produced by a pair of anal glands. All weasel (Mustelidae) related animal's have them. Once a skunk sprays it takes them 10 days to regenerate their musk glands. We have discovered that Dawn dish soap and vinegar are excellent for removing the smell.

Skunks have a elaborate warning behavior: they curl the tail over the back, stomp, show off their teeth, grunt, puff, curb their backs, beat the ground with their limbs and execute their famous stunt walking on their front limbs. This means an imminent shot is coming! If not enough, with head and tail forward and arched back, and gushes precisely the liquid towards the enemy. There's nothing like a animal with a built in chemical weapon.

The presence of the striped skunk from Canada, North America to the tip of South American.. Although they prefer semi-open areas with woodland, brush land and open fields, striped skunks have a high tolerance for humans. They frequently forego their usual den habitat and occupy abandoned buildings or move under houses.

Striped skunks are omnivorous but are more insectivorous than any other carnivore. They feed on small mammals such as rats, mice, snakes and frogs, vegetable matter, fruits, wild berries, leaves sometimes cadavers, but the majority of their diet consists of insects and other invertebrates they dig up with their fore claws. They also attack bee hives without being annoyed by the stings; skunks will eat the bees rolling them with their tongue getting rid of the stinger.

In the fall skunks acquire a layer of fat and by early December, they begin a winter sleep that is not a true hibernation. They will become active during mild periods and inside the den. They have between one and three 10 minute activity periods per day. Some dens have been known to have 20 skunks curled up together but usually less than that. They have been known to share dens with foxes, raccoons. Typically the females and babies will head to the den when the temperatures reach zero degrees Celsius.

In the Northern states skunks hibernate similar to that of bears 75-100 days. They breed in late February or early March. After a pregnancy of approximately 63 days, the female gives birth to a litter containing 4-6 young. A young baby of a striped skunk is called a 'kit'. A striped skunk group is called a 'surfeit or stink'. Musk glands are functional in the young at about 28 days of age.

The striped skunk has secure conservation status. The average life span is 10 years, but few live beyond three years, but in captivity they can live to the ripe old age of 14. Mortality occurs from a variety of sources including predation, disease, road kill and farm machinery. Although once and important pelt, the striped skunk is currently of minor importance to the fur trade.

Their main predators are Great horned owls and bobcats. Skunks are known to be major carriers of the rabies virus and therefore, tend to be a focus in disease management projects.

Ron & Angie VanHerwyn, Kritter kids

Email kritterkids@yahoo.com

Px# 334-301-5131 or 334-301-5128

Facebook - Ron's kritter kids (Wildlife education)

 

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