Fearless Fellow in Evening Attire
his glossy black fur trimmed with gleaming white stripes,
the skunk looks like a portly gentleman in evening clothes
as he walks slowly across the road in the moonlight.
His wonderful plumey tail, rivaling that of the fox,
is carried slightly aloft. The skunk's front legs are
much shorter than his back legs, giving him a peculiar
waddling gait. His front feet possess powerful claws
with which he digs a den, although he may be quite happy
to utilize an abandoned woodchuck's burrow, or even
to make his home beneath a building.
The skunk enjoys eating fruits and berries, insects,
small mammals, snakes and frogs. It also eats the eggs
of fledgelings that nest upon the ground. Paradoxically,
although the skunk is of great benefit to farmers, in
that, when it burrows under barns it will rid them of
unwanted rodents, it will also try to eat the poultry!
In the summer, the skunk's diet consists primarily of
insects, and it destroys great numbers of injurious
ones, especially grasshoppers, beetles, cutworms and
grubs. However, the skunk also relishes honeybees. It
scratches the front of the hives until the bees swarm
out angrily, then stamps on them and eats them!
Skunk babies are born in the late spring -- deaf and
blind, wrinkled and almost hairless, the black and white
pattern already apparent on their skin. After about
five weeks, they are fully-furred and weaned. They can
be seen out on hunting expeditions with their mother,
trailing single-file after her in the moonlight.
The following winter, the skunk family retreats to the
den and sleeps through the coldest weather. By mid-February,
male skunks may be seen abroad in search of amour.
The skunk is an intelligent creature, fearless and dignified.
It actually has a very amiable disposition, however,
when it feels threatened, it will utilize its great
weapon of self-defense. First, the skunk warns the enemy
by stamping its front feet, and, perhaps, emitting a
low growl. Next, it lifts its beautiful tail high, and
spreads the fur. It bends its body into a "U" shape
so that its face and rear both point at the enemy, and
it can see where it is aiming its weaponry. Then, from
two glands at the base of the tail, it shoots a sulfurous
compound with great accuracy. This spray is quite painful
if it hits the eyes, causing copious tearing but no
permanent blindness. The odor of the spray may be perceived
for a distance of more than a mile. According to Audobon's
colleague, the Reverend John Bachman, the skunk's spray
is luminous in the dark, like "an attenuated stream
of phosphoric light." Not everyone finds the skunk's
spray to be offensive. The naturalist John Burroughs
wrote of it, "It approaches the sublime, and makes the
nose tingle.... It is tonic and bracing, and I can readily
believe has rare medicinal qualities."
Skunks are gentle and easily tamed, and it is claimed
that they are more affectionate and attentive than cats.
When descented, they are said to make excellent pets.
Articles by Miriam Sanders