A Fearless Fellow in Evening Attire

In 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.


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