Exploring The Last Green Valley – Eastern Striped Skunk: Alive and Well in The Last Green Valley
Eastern Striped Skunk: Alive and Well in The Last Green Valley
The other night I got a text from my wife telling me to be careful when I came home – there was a skunk outside our house. I’ve had some experience with skunks so I wasn’t too concerned about getting sprayed, but I was certain there was something she wasn’t telling me.
I pulled into our driveway an hour later and didn’t smell much skunk musk but it really hit me when I walked into our back mudroom. Both of our dogs were in their cages looking rather unhappy. The late summer habit of being sprayed by a skunk was still alive and well with our dog Russell and he had happily passed that tradition along to our younger dog Cha Cha. But they didn’t smell too bad and we surmised that they had taken a “glancing” shot and not a direct hit of odiferous skunk sauce.
Luckily we found the bottle of pet odor spray and shampoo that is great for skunk musk and in no time had both dogs cleaned up. I had purchased the product at the Brooklyn Fair a few years ago and have used it on Russell a few times. You think he would have learned by now. Something tells me I’ll need another bottle before too long.
I can’t get too upset with the dogs since I, too, have the dubious distinction of getting sprayed by a skunk. I was in second grade at the time, dressed and ready for the walk to the school bus stop. That beautiful September morning my oldest brother Dave had accidently caught a baby skunk in a “Havahart” trap. He was hoping to trap and relocate the raccoon that had been raiding our trash cans and instead caught a baby skunk.
As I approached the trap, Dave told me to stand back because I might get sprayed. My other brother Rob told me that it was just a baby skunk and it couldn’t spray. Rob was wrong – very wrong. To say the least, my mother was not too pleased when I came running into the house fully-dosed with skunk musk. I still had to go to school that day but not until suffering the indignity of a cool bath in tomato and lemon juice.
There are two times a year when you tend to smell skunks. The first is during mating season in February and the second is early fall when young baby skunks are venturing out to establish their own territories. It was a baby skunk that sprayed me that early September morning many years ago and my guess is that a baby skunk dosed our dogs the other night.
After mating in February and early March, the gestation period for skunks is about 60-70 days. The young are born blind and helpless between late April and early June. They open their eyes within three weeks and at seven weeks will venture out with their mother. Despite what my brother Rob led me to believe, baby skunks at this young age are able to spray. In the early fall they will disperse. The adult males are solitary except during mating season.
This time of year, when young skunks are on their own, they tend to get into trouble. They can be attracted to houses by unattended pet food, garbage and litter. Thursday mornings are trash pickups on my street and trash bags left out on Wednesday evenings are easy targets for nocturnal skunks.
The real problem for skunks, though, is roads, and it is while driving that we usually smell skunks after they unfortunately become road kill.
Here are some facts about the eastern striped skunk – mephitis mephitis – from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection fact sheet.
- Skunk habitat is usually fields, fencerows, ravines and rocky outcrops. Skunks may also be found underneath buildings and in culverts.
- Skunks can weigh between 6 and 14 pounds with the males somewhat larger. They are 21 to 26 inches long.
- Skunks eat insects and they especially like grubs. They will eat small mammals, earthworms, snails, grains and nuts, fruits, small reptiles and amphibians, birds, eggs (especially turtle eggs) carrion and garbage.
- Covered in black fluffy fur, the skunk is easily identified by its narrow white stripe up the middle of the forehead and a broad white area on the top of the head and neck that usually divides into two stripes along the back. The long bushy tail is a mixture of white and black hairs. The skunk has a small head, small eyes and a pointed snout. Their short legs, sharp teeth and long claws enable them to dig in to soil or sod and pull apart rotten logs looking for food.
- The skunk is a member of the Mustelid family that includes weasel, mink, marten, fisher and otter. Their Latin name translates into “bad odor” and all mustelids produce a strong smelling liquid from their scent glands. It is the skunk, however, that uses the odor for defense. The skunk scent glands are located on either side of the rectum and secrete a sticky yellow fluid that can be sprayed accurately more than 10 feet.
- Mild-tempered by nature, skunks will not spray unless provoked. They usually stamp their front feet and arch their tails up over their backs as a warning before spraying. If confronted by a skunk in this position, it is best to make a slow, quiet retreat. A skunk’s spray is normally directed toward the eyes and may cause temporary blindness and nausea. Rinsing eyes with water will help restore vision. Tomato juice or diluted solutions of vinegar may eliminate most of the odor from people, pets and clothing.
- Skunks are a common source of wildlife problems experienced by homeowners. They will dig up lawns and gardens searching for insect larvae and grubs. They leave cone-shaped holes three to four inches in diameter and may also turn up sod.
- Skunks can also carry rabies. If you encounter a skunk that appears sick or is acting abnormally, with impaired movement, unprovoked aggression, paralysis or lack of coordination it may be a sign of rabies. If you see this behavior, avoid the animal and notify your local animal control officer.
We live in a region full of amazing wildlife. Some of our wild animals are a beautiful sight to behold and others sing tuneful melodious songs. It is the skunk, however, that attacks our sense of smell like none other. Often sniffed before seen, the skunk is here to stay and is a welcome addition to our animal kingdom.
I hope you’ll join me to explore the wonders of The Last Green Valley. Together we can care for it, enjoy it and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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