Springtime means its skunk season in the suburbs

 
By Mark Spreyer
Stillman Nature Center
Posted5/1/2018 11:00 AM
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  • Springtime is breeding season for the striped skunk. Naturalist Mark Spreyer shares some tips and trivia about one of the suburbs' least popular backyard visitors.

    Springtime is breeding season for the striped skunk. Naturalist Mark Spreyer shares some tips and trivia about one of the suburbs' least popular backyard visitors. Daily Herald File Photo

Skunks!

No American mammal is better known and less popular than the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). That said, there are some folks that find skunks to be quite cute. Personally speaking, I find skunks attractive ... at a distance.

No longer weasels

For most of my life, skunks have been placed in the weasel family.

Including the tail, the skunk is roughly two feet long. Given that its weight ranges from 3.5 to 11 pounds, we're not exactly talking about a svelte mammal.

Normally, skunks move the front and hind legs on one side together, then the legs on the other side step together. This alternating pace gives the chunky skunk a pronounced waddle as it ambles along its way.

The other reason I bring up the wide-load design of the skunk is because of its relatively new scientific classification. Genetic studies have now determined that the skunks belong in their own family. The new family is named Mephitidae, from a Latin word meaning "stink."

I imagine the skunks are pleased to be separated from those scrawny, skinny weasels.

Dietary favorites

What's black and white and run all over? That's right, a road-killed skunk.

To some of us, the first sign of spring isn't a blooming crocus or a croaking frog, it's the first dead skunk on the road. Talk about being stinky!

Here along our pond's edge, skunks enjoy dining on crayfish, turtle eggs, and worms. Later in the year, they'll eat mulberries, grapes, black cherries, and raspberries.

I provide this diet information for those of you who discover they have a young family of skunks living under their porch this summer.

Rest assured, you are not alone. Skunks can be found in mixed woodlands and fields, along brushy creek borders and in rocky crevices. They are very adaptable. As one 1930 mammal reference adds, "One of their marked characteristics is a fondness for the vicinity of man."

Spray & Wash

Of course, when humans irritate skunks, skunks demonstrate their Mephitidae moniker. Here's how it works. The polite skunk gives you plenty of warning. It will first raise its tail, arch its back, and repeatedly stomp its front feet. It does this as it shuffles in reverse. If you're not the target, it is an amusing display.

If the threat to the skunk persists, it will bend its body into a U-shape with both its tail and head facing its adversary. After that, it will use its enlarged anal glands to spray a pungent fluid in a wide arc. Anything within 10 feet of the skunk will not soon forget the malodorous experience.

One last thing, what do you do if your dog has been sprayed? Don't bother with ineffective tomato juice, unless you want a pink dog. Instead, prepare and apply the anti-skunk dog rinse described below.

• 1 quart hydrogen peroxide

• 1/4 cup baking soda

• 2 tablespoons liquid dish soap (preferably Dawn)

Mix all ingredients. The mixture will bubble and it must be used when freshly made, while it's still active.

The washing should be done outside; wear protective gloves.

Don't wet the dog, pour the mixture over the dry dog, being careful not to get any in the animal's eyes and let sit for 10 minutes.

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

• Mark Spreyer is executive director of the Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington. Send comments or questions to him at stillnc@wildblue.net. Visit Stillman Nature Center online at www.stillmannc.org.

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