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We have been skunked again

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By Jeneen Wiche

From time to time I see a skunk meandering around the farm during the day. It’s unusual, however. A few years back there was one that was sniffing about under some pines in the lower pasture, and it was evident from its movements and from its awareness (or lack thereof) of its surroundings that this creature knew it had the advantage.

A skunk’s eyesight is poor, so sneaking up on him to get a photograph was possible, but it made me realize that startling a skunk is probably not a good idea.

Skunks are mostly nocturnal, nomadic and solitary except during their mating season, which has begun. We don’t see them too often, except as road kill, but when we do, it can be memorable.

When it comes to the striped skunks in our area, their general behavior consists of sleeping in some sort of den during the day. We have had skunks at the farm take up residence in old fox dens, groundhog holes and in the barn (where something dug a hole underneath an overturned row boat years ago).

Skunks are typically active from dusk to dawn, which is a little odd because of their poor eyesight. They have a good sense of smell, however, and rummage around at night for a meal of small rodents, grubs and other meaty insects.

A rotten stump with a host of living creatures working to expedite the process of decay is a treat if you are a skunk.

This nocturnal skunk behavior mimics our Great Pyrenees and Maremma behavior, too. They become alert at dusk and begin their patrol of the farm.

Unfortunately this offered a great opportunity for the three to meet because Finca and Baxter were thoroughly soaked in that undeniable skunk funk one morning last week. These dogs do not come into the house, so we will let nature run its course at de-skunking them.

Males are polygamous, so the females end up being the sole caregivers of their litters that average one to eight babies. Baby skunks, called kittens, are born in April and May with a gestation period that lasts about 63 days, so if you do the math most skunks are pretty busy right now.

Here are some things to be aware of if you know you have skunks in your area:

  • Skunks have abnormally large musk glands on both sides of their rear end. The musk has an oily component to it so it sticks.
  • Skunks have amazing accuracy when it comes to fending off those that threaten them. They can hit their mark perfectly at 6 feet and have generally good aim up to 20 feet.
  • If you come across a skunk, and she starts stamping her front feet, run. Just before they release their musk, they give a warning stomp, rise up on their front legs, left up their rear and, bull’s-eye, you’ve been skunked.
  • If you receive a direct hit, it is not comparable to the general skunk smell. Rather the stench is a combination of burning rubber, sharp, fresh garlic and a little sulfur. The animal lives up to its Latin name, Mephitis mephitis, which translates as “bad odor, bad odor.”

One skunk season we were held hostage in the house at night because we would smell a skunk out there circling as they rummaged in the mulch. We would go from window to window trying to catch a glimpse of it.

Their stripes are quite distinctive, some almost non-existent but others look nearly all white. Males roam about – and get hit by cars at a much higher rate this time of the year – quite a bit during mating season, but females usually stay within a half a mile of their den.

This was the year Buck got a direct hit to the face that sent the old red heeler mutt on a desperate attempt to rub it off. He effectively spread the oil all over the driveway and garage door stoop.

We bathed him in Dawn, peroxide and baking soda multiple times before it was even bearable for us all.

If you do get a hit, the mixture is a quarter cup of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of Dawn dishwashing detergent and a pint of peroxide. Use it right away, and it will work better than most other concoctions.

 

Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.