Wild Life / skunk party 2021
Hi, friends — it’s cold and foggy today, perhaps an apt metaphor for a year of not being able to see very far ahead or behind. It’s been a real skunk party—let the skunk party begin! — Amy Jean
First things first: striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) can spray their crazy, long-lasting, intense stink-oil up to 10 feet—with accuracy—out of musk glands under their tail. They can aim for the eyes; the stench lasts for days; the mist sticks to everything. What an amazing and ridiculous power.
Skunks are pretty relaxed otherwise, and why should they worry? Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and other wild mammals leave them alone. The smell is awful, and a shot in the eyes can be temporarily blinding and, let’s be honest, embarrassing. Skunks do have to watch out for domestic dogs, who don’t know any better, and great horned owls, who have no sense of smell. The animal kingdom is funny that way, there’s always a match in the sky.
I haven’t seen many skunks, but I’ve certainly smelled them. The scent travels for miles, like rotten eggs, wet wool, and vinegar. I appreciate the calling card; it’s good to know they’re out there waddling around in the dark, eating insects, grubs, garbage, worms, mice, eggs, frogs, blueberries, corn, compost. They are omnivorous and opportunistic, using their claws and dainty noses to find food.
Striped skunks are mainly nocturnal, though you may see one during the day. A friend of mine has one under her shed, and, during the summer, she and the skunk take turns in the garden, neatly avoiding each other. For my part, I’ve only seen one across the backyard, and it was a real surprise. Their striking black and white feels impossible.
The real skunk party happens in summer and fall, as babies emerge and learn from their mothers, becoming independent within a couple of months. In December, they hunker down in burrows, sleeping off the cold months (though I bet they were out in the warm fog today). Skunks are not true hibernators, but they do enter torpor and their metabolism slows. They will often den together in winter, though they are mainly solitary in warm months.
Skunks may be the one animal that literally every living thing knows of in North America. They somehow smell equally offensive to all mammals. They did it. The skunk party is, in fact, a moment of peace.
Striped skunk links—
This may be my favorite video of all time, when a skunk family encounters a cyclist [via YouTube]
Also this one, when an opossum pushes a skunk into a pond (I’ve linked this before but it’s good!) [YouTube]
This one just wants a belly rub [YouTube]
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Wild Life #36 / this newsletter is a place to learn about the life around us, one skunk party at a time. I do this because I’m not sure what to do about the millions of species in danger of extinction. It means something to see and enjoy the life around us. Thanks for reading and see you in a couple of weeks.