Nature Bulletin No. 56 March 9, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
There is nothing half-way about a skunk. It is one of our most beautiful
and most valuable animals, but also one of the most unpopular.
Fearless, he goes slowly and deliberately about his business. Most other
mammals, including man, give him the right of way. He expects it. As a
result many are killed on the highways.
Skunks hunt mostly at night, rooting and digging for insects, grubs and
meadow mice. They are also fond of frogs, crayfish, small snakes, turtle
eggs, and the eggs of ground-nesting birds. They are the chief enemies
of turtles and bumble bees. The quantity of grasshoppers, crickets,
grubs and mice they consume makes the skunk valuable. In addition,
their long thick glossy fur, black with white stripes, is an important item
of the fur trade.
Each pair digs a burrow or appropriates one ready-made. In it the
female makes a grass nest and the young are born in early spring,
numbering from 4 to 6, sometimes 10, per litter.
The skunk's defense is a strong musky fluid contained in a pair of
glands beneath the tail, controlled by powerful muscles, squirted in a
fine misty spray with surprising accuracy for 8 or 10 feet. This fluid is
clear yellow in color, strongly acid, and terribly painful to the eyes --
sometimes causing temporary blindness. The tail is not used to throw
the spray, as many believe, but is held stiffly erect and bristling. He
prefers to bluff. If the bluff works, down goes the danger flag.
One of our naturalists, on a moonlit night, watched a skunk baffle two
possums trying to reach their den tree. He would move quickly around
the trunk facing first one and then the other, rapidly stamping the
ground with his forefeet. If one made a move, he would whirl and erect
his tail. When the possum backed away, down went the danger nag.
The possums finally gave up and left.
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Update: June 2012