Oct 02 2008
Pictured here – safely “deodorized” and in a cage – is the only docile animal that strikes fear in my heart.
It’s been a month of skunks for me, beginning on the first night of our Maine vacation. After 9 hours of sitting in airports, on planes and buses, we arrived at our hotel. Though it was 9:00pm we needed to stretch our legs so we took a walk around the parking lot.
At the wildest corner of the parking lot – if a collection of shrubs can be called “wild” – I smelled a hint of something unpleasant. Fox? We took a few more steps in the dark. Is that a black cat at the edge of the lawn? No! A skunk! I grabbed my husband’s arm and we jumped back a step. There were two skunks near the trees and one of them was stamping his feet. We were out of there!
A similar thing happened the next night – different place, different time, another skunk in the dark – so when the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center brought a disarmed skunk to the Group Against Smog and Pollution picnic last Saturday, I was intrigued. Here was a skunk I could get close to. Here’s what I learned:
- Skunks have good senses of hearing and smell (imagine!) but they cannot see beyond about 10 feet.
- They have muscles near their anal scent glands which allow them to accurately spray 7-15 feet.
- Their scent gland is empty after 5-6 sprays and it takes 10 days to refill so they conserve the spray by warning you with foot stamping, hissing and holding their tails high. (Thank heaven!)
- Even when a skunk’s scent glands are removed the scent is still part of them, though fainter. If you handle a skunk, you will pick up that faint scent on your hands and clothes. After a while you won’t notice it – but members of your carpool will.
- Skunks can carry rabies for five or six generations without exhibiting symptoms. That’s why pet skunks must come from breeders, not the wild.
And how does this relate to birds?
It turns out that other than humans, the skunks’ only predator is the great-horned owl … because the owl doesn’t have a sense of smell!
(Thanks to Maren Cooke for the picture of “Mario Le Pew” from the ARL Wildlife Center getting acquainted with her daughter, Innes Donahue, at the GASP picnic.)