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Posts tagged “Mephitis mephitis

Striped Skunks Mating

A very high percentage (96%) of female Striped Skunks become pregnant each breeding season.  Both males and females are covering a lot of ground this time of year (up to 2 ½ miles per night), visiting each other’s dens in search of a mate.  While male skunks are promiscuous, mating with as many females in their territory as they can, females mate once and fight off any further attempts from other males.

Unlike primates, who experience “spontaneous ovulation” and ovulate midway through their menstrual cycle, female Striped Skunks, along with cats, ferrets, and rabbits, are what is known as “induced ovulators” – the act of copulation stimulates ovulation, which doesn’t occur until copulation has taken place.

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Striped Skunks On The Move

9-25-17 striped skunk IMG_1777Winter’s coming and in the Northeast, Striped Skunks are preparing for the cold months ahead. Before they usurp the abandoned quarters of a Muskrat or Red or Gray Fox (or bunk with a willing Opossum or Raccoon), they spend a great deal of time foraging and putting on life-sustaining fat. Even though a state of torpor slows their metabolism down during the coldest months, skunks must bulk up in the fall, as they lose up to 65 percent of their body weight over the winter. Thus, they meander far and wide looking for food this time of year. In addition, this year’s young are still dispersing. For these reasons, you may have encountered the smell of skunk or the sad sight of striped roadkills in your travels lately.


Can Young Skunks Spray?

 

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When under dire stress, adult Striped Skunks will employ their two anal glands and anoint a perceived threat up to 16 feet away (with the wind’s help) with their potent musky spray of butyl mercaptan. (This same compound is used as an additive to natural gas (which is almost odorless) to enable its detection by smell when natural gas escapes or leaks from pipes.)

Often it is assumed that very young skunks do not have this capability, and for the first seven days of their life, they don’t. However, musk is present in a skunk’s anal glands at birth and can be emitted on day 8. The pictured skunk (and its three siblings) were rescued after their mother was killed by a car, and as you can see, thanks to a positive experience with the nurturing hands of its rescuer (Lou White), it is not interested in utilizing its defense mechanism to defend itself against an admiring naturalist. (Photo by Lou White)

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Striped Skunks Seeking Mates

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Striped Skunks are on the prowl, as your nose may have told you recently – males are eagerly seeking out the company of females at this time of year and are often hit by cars traveling at night. The peak of the Striped Skunk breeding season — the third week of March — will soon be upon us. Males will mate with several females in succession and then they often protect their harem against other males by hitting them (other males) with their shoulders or biting their legs. Once a female has been successfully bred, she will not allow further mating activity and will viciously fight any male that attempts it.

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Striped Skunks Ferreting Out Fungi

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The perfectly round, inch-wide, ½-inch-deep holes in the ground that Striped Skunks leave when they’ve been digging for grubs are a fairly common sight. There are other edibles besides grubs, however, that they dig for: insects, earthworms, rodents, salamanders, frogs, snakes and moles, among others. The list isn’t limited to living creatures, however, as skunks are omnivores. Their diet, which changes with the seasons, also includes fruit, grasses, nuts and fungi. Pictured is a hole excavated by a Striped Skunk and the remains of the fungus that was fruiting there. At this time of year, it is not unusual to find that a meal of mushrooms is the object of their digging desire.

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Young Striped Skunks Learning How To Fend For Themselves

6-28  young skunks2  267For the past six to eight weeks, young striped skunks have lived off their mother’s milk, but now the time has come for them to learn how to provide for themselves.  The mother teaches her four to eight young by taking them all out at night to learn how to forage for insects and small mammals.  Should you encounter one of these small, furry creatures, do not be fooled into thinking it is too young to spray.  Musk is present at birth, and can be released at the ripe old age of eight days.  (Thanks to Don Westover and Lou White for photo op)

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Striped Skunks Digging For Grubs

10-21-15 striped skunk 221Congratulations to the many of you who knew that the swirls/holes that are present in forest floors, lawns and anywhere there are grubs are the work of a Striped Skunk. The swirls (or “twizzles,”as one reader called them) are created when the skunk is actively looking for food, and probes the ground with its nose. If and when it smells a protein-rich earthworm or grub (larval insect) in the ground, it digs a hole in order to retrieve it. These cone-shaped holes are dug at night, when skunks are active, and often appear after a heavy rain. This is because grubs move closer to the surface of the ground when the ground is wet, making it possible for a skunk to smell them. When the soil dries, the grubs move back down into deeper soil and skunks will no longer be able to smell them — thus, no more holes will be dug. Because many animals are eating voraciously in order to put on fat for the winter, signs of digging activity are frequently seen in the fall.

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Two-month-old Striped Skunks Can Spray!

7-15-15 striped skunk2 058The answer to yesterday’s mystery photo is a lot less original than many of your guesses, all of which could have been true, given my natural curiosity. I am embarrassed to admit that it was the oily, yellow spray of a young striped skunk that covered my spectacles (and my entire head, arms and camera) – even with ample warning, I chose to persevere in order to get the perfect picture. Unfortunately, the skunk was a lot more successful at his mission than I was at mine.

There is a reason why coyotes, foxes and most predators (one exception is the great horned owl), including most sane photographers, keep their distance from striped skunks. Whether newborn or several years old, skunks are capable of using their musk-filled anal glands to ward off anything that threatens them. Skunks are generally reluctant to spray, however, as they only have a few teaspoons (half an ounce) of musk in their glands, and once their supply is depleted (five or six sprays), they are defenseless for about 10 days, while it builds up again. Hence, plenty of warning is given in the form of stomping front feet, erect hair, raised tail, and chattering before a skunk contracts the muscles surrounding its anal glands and shoots a pungent, yellowish spray as far as ten feet away. Only a fool would not heed the warning given…and be forewarned – a skunk’s aim is surprisingly accurate.

The organic compounds that make the smell of skunk spray so offensive are called thiols (mercaptans). Thiols are also found in garlic and onions, and form parts of the keratin in hair. If your dog or you happen to be at the wrong end of a skunk’s partially everted anus, the best combination to neutralize the musk smell is 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. (Thanks (?) to Tom Ripley for photo op.)

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Striped Skunk Mating Season

3-14-14 striped skunk 082Striped Skunks are on the prowl, as your nose may have told you recently – males are eagerly seeking out the company of females at this time of year and are often hit by cars traveling at night. The peak of Striped Skunk breeding season is typically the third week in March. Males will mate with several females in succession and then they often protect their harem against other males by hitting them (other males) with their shoulders or biting their legs. Once a female has been successfully bred, she will not allow further mating activity and will viciously fight any male that attempts it.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Striped Skunk Mating Season

2-18-13 striped skunk tracks IMG_3244Striped skunks are nocturnal and, for the most part, semi-dormant in the winter, especially during cold spells. The females often gather in communal dens in groups as large as 15. Come mid-February the polygamous males become very active, searching far and wide for mates. Although the mating season doesn’t peak until mid-March, tracks throughout woods and fields confirm that the breeding season is in full swing. During a typical night a skunk may cover ¼ to ½ a square mile, but during the breeding season, this increases to 4 or 5 square miles.


Signs of Striped Skunks

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If you are finding small, conical pits in your lawn, you probably have a striped skunk to thank for reducing your grub population.  During the spring and summer, invertebrates make up a large percentage of this nocturnal omnivore’s diet.  With the help of their well-developed sense of smell and their long nails (which make them excellent diggers), they locate, gain access to and consume subterranean insect larvae with relative ease.   Another sign of skunk activity, in addition to lawn divots, are the excavated ground nests of yellowjackets.  If they’ve met with success, skunks will often leave sections of empty, paper cells scattered about the nest site.  Apparently, even though yellowjackets can sting multiple times, they’re not very effective at discouraging foraging skunks.  Should you be so inclined, a close examination of skunk scat will reveal bits of insect exoskeletons, as well as the bones and hair of small rodents.  The pictured scat (next to the divot) contained, in addition to insect parts, the fur of another nocturnal animal, a flying squirrel.  (Thanks to Emily and Joe Silver for photo op.)


Striped Skunk

Although you would think that no predator would think of preying on, much less eating, a striped skunk, there are a few mammals, including coyotes, foxes and bobcats, that do just that, but only if they are in danger of starving.  One predator that routinely dines on skunks is the great horned owl.  One summer night I made out the silhouette of an owl flying in my direction, and as it flew by me its identity was confirmed by the skunk-like odor that accompanied it. 

 


Striped Skunk Feeding Holes

If you wake up and your lawn is full of small (1”-2” diameter) conical holes you can be sure of two things.  One is that you have an infestation of grubs in your lawn.  Secondly, a striped skunk has done you the favor of decreasing your grub population.  Skunks are omnivorous, eating everything from snails and birds’ eggs to nuts and berries.  In the summer, roughly half of their diet consists of insects.   One of their favorites is beetle larvae (grubs), particularly the immature June bug larvae, which reside an inch or so beneath the surface of the soil.  When skunks have been feeding under a pine tree, the circular motion with which they presumably dig the hole is obvious in the circular arrangement of the needles surrounding the hole.