WICHIE: Pepe la Pew wasn’t so far from the real thing

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By Jeneen Wiche

Remember Pepe la Pew, the cartoon skunk?

Pepe would follow the lovely black feline Penelope Pussycat, who, in some episodes painted a white stripe on her back to escape dog harassment and in others she accidentally scooted under a newly painted white fence. In any case Pepe was a persistent suitor.

I loved this classic cartoon as a child, but now I have an entirely different respect for Pepe’s sensibilities. His character was not so far off from a real skunk’s unabashed pursue of love this time of the year. 

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 they have 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. 

I knock on wood as I write this: We have not seen or smelled any skunks this year. I have only seen the road kill numbers rise as the mating season progresses.

In past years, however, we have been held hostage in the house at night because you smell someone out there circling as they rummage in the mulch. We would go from window to window trying to catch a glimpse of just who it was. 

We knew our girl “Fleur” by sight because of her markings. Their stripes are quite distinctive, some almost non-existent while 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. So if it wasn’t Fleur outside, it was a philandering male looking for her.

Males are polygamous, so the females end up being the sole caregivers of their litters that average 1 to 8 babies. Baby skunks, called kittens, are born in April and May after a gestation period that lasts about 63 days. 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 ends, and the musk has an oily component to it, ensuring it sticks.

Skunks have amazing accuracy when it comes to fending off those that threaten them.  They can hit their marks perfectly at six 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 rears 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.

Tjos animal lives up to its Latin name, Mephitis mephitis, which translates as “bad odor, bad odor.”

If you do get a hit, the best a mixture for a wash is a quarter cup of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of Dawn dishwashing detergent and a pint of peroxide.

It works better then most other concoctions we have tried.