The Skunk, or Polecat
When the European savages came to the Americas they found a creature they'd never seen before, and one can only imagine the first pale faced invader to have come within the ten feet of a nervous skunk not only slept alone that night, but for at least the next week. Not only can it be imagined that any self respecting European immigrant wife wouldn't have someone laying next to her who smelled of that smell, she might have well put the poor fellow out of the house entirely.
I find the term the Europeans used to describe this creature, the polecat, as very interesting. In the past an online friend in Oklahoma had told me she'd found a litter of abandoned skunks near her home, and she had decided to raise them. She had told me they behave just like cats. Now, I've no idea about that. I've no intention to find out either. If I ever find a baby skunk, then I might be tempted into trying to take care of it, but I honestly do not wish to be offered the opportunity by anyone or any circumstance.
In any case, the term polecat didn't quite stick so well, but is a common colloquial vernacular term, and especially here in the South. The term that is here to stay, and existed for an indeterminate amount of time before the term polecat was coined, that of skunk, was what some Native American tribes had used for the animal's name.
An Adult Striped Skunk On The Snow
The Skunk, Can't You Smell That Smell?
Now please do not go off and think poorly of our mutual friend, the skunk, as our friend is a very unique fellow, and also serves some very valuable purposes in this world that we share with the skunk folk. While the sight of a snake or a rat might make someone jump - there are few animals in the wild that command the healthy respect that does the skunk. Pound for pound, you might say that the skunk commands more respect for his or her personal space than any creature on Earth that has no intentions of eating you.
Though the skunks of this world, and there are more than just one kind, mind you, have no intentions of eating you, dearest friends, they are omnivorous creatures who do sometimes eat carrion. So it's really best that you die somewhere where you'd be found by people before you are found by coyotes, or even skunks.
Of course there's no real reason for me to tell anyone living in the USA just why it is that we have such a healthy respect for the personal space of the skunks - but in case you live somewhere far away and are reading this, then just maybe you don't know just what it is that I've been alluding to. The skunk can, does, and will spray you, or anything else with an oil based odorous substance that has a reek so foul as to cause instant ostracism not only in the wild, but especially in polite human society. What else would you suspect from the most highly developed and dual anal scent glands within the entire animal kingdom?
Skunks can spray the mixture of sulfur,methyl, and butyl thiols a distance of about ten feet. There's no real description of this smell, but once one has smelled it, and all of us Texans have, there's no forgetting it. It's a smell strong enough to make any bear vacate the area, and besides that, it can cause major skin irritation and even temporary blindness should it get into one's eyes. Kudos, Sir or Madam Skunk, towards your super highly developed stink spray bomb defensive mechanism!
A Baby Striped Skunk
North American Striped Skunk Distribution
The Skunk Diet
Let's not get all up in arms or anything over that whole deal about the skunk and it's anal stink bomb glands, one on each side of the organ that serves to be the exit for what the skunk metabolism couldn't use. The skunks of this world absolutely do NOT want to be considered "terrorist" in the sense that ignoramus former US Presidents or Texas Governors would use to justify rounding them up and putting them all in a special skunk FEMA camps. The highly developed oil based stink spray is the last resort of the skunk....just like patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.
It can take a skunk up to ten days to replenish it's amazing defensive and completely socially corrosive fluids. It doesn't waste them on whimsy, so please have some respect. There's been many a sad day in my life when one of my tail wagging four legged furry friends came when I called with a please please please still pet me look on their dog faces, and I wound up petting them just the same. The stuff seems mostly non transferable from whatever got sprayed to you. In other words, me petting my skunk sprayed Chow dog didn't make me smell, but the stuff probably dries or something. I'm positive that no one would pet a dog that had just then been sprayed. At least no one with a working olfactory sense
What do skunks eat? Well, mostly insects and larvae, including bees, which is a bad thing at this point in ecological history, but also all manner of stinging wasps, which is never a bad thing at all should you ask me. Skunks also eat mice, snakes, and other lizards, and also have a taste for bird eggs, and sometimes - chickens.
Yes, friends and neighbors, here on the Shaw farm more than one skunk has met with a very sad shotgun fate over the death of dad's chickens or the dastardly theft of the Shaw family eggs. It's pretty amazing that skunks ever manage to get inside the Fort Shaw chicken coops, but it happens.
On a more positive note, skunks also eat spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and various and sundry vegetation.
An Eastern Spotted Skunk
The Stink Badger
Now most Americans do not know about the Stink Badger, and as I'm somewhat representative of "most Americans" in some ways, I must admit that I didn't know about that Stink Badger either until I'd decided to create this presentation on the Skunk that you are viewing here. There are many species of stink badger occurring natively to many places other than just Malaysia - all of them have the ability to spray a; most foul defensive oil based fluid from anal organs as a manner of self defence.
I honestly had thought that the American Skunks were somewhat or totally unique to America, and they are; but their primary feature is NOT unique to the Skunks of the Americas.
Mydaus javanensis - The Malayan Stink Badger, a Skunk Relative
Despite having been told that skunks act just like cats, that's simply not true. Skunks might seem similar to cats, but they're so far and gone from being similar to cats that it's ridiculous to compare them to cats; but maybe it's fair to think that they somewhat act like cats when you're in need of something to compare their behaviour to for a commoner such as myself.
Skunks are of the weasel family, which includes otters, badgers, ferrets, and, of course, weasels. Skunks vary in size from around fifteen inches in length all the way up to nearly forty inches in length, and vary in weight from around one pound all the way on up to eighteen pounds. All skunks are striped and are striped from birth.
All true skunks are, in fact, American - from Northern Mexico onward up to Most of Canada; following that - there are skunks in extreme Southern Mexico, and on down throughout "most" of South America - but there are many different species of skunk.Though stink badgers are found in various places in different species far far away, and they do share a common ancestor with the skunks, true skunks are native to only the Americas.
The North American Hog Nosed Skunk - Largest Of All Skunks
Skunks and Rabies
Finally, I must deal with some advice that I gave recently in a comment here on this site. I've been told all of my life here in North Eastern Texas that if one sees a skunk out and about going boldly about skunk business during the broad daylight hours - it is practically a public service to shoot that skunk, as only skunks who have rabies do skunk business during the bright hours of the day that are neither early morning nor late evening.
With the following link it seems to be that that is entirely UN TRUE, or FALSE. Skunks can and do come out and do any and every skunk business during the day as they please. It's only a lot less common than for them to be doing their skunk business under the moonlight.
HOWEVER, it is very important to know that skunks very often are the carriers of rabies, and should always be avoided when encountered in the wild. If the main and most memorable or identifiable attribute of skunks is not enough to deter you from interfering with skunks, then the fact that TWENTY ONE PERCENT OF ALL animal bites are...skunk bites, and that only raccoons carry rabies more than skunks certainly should!
Leave the skunks alone, folks, and if one acts aggressively towards you, then maybe you should shoot it.
© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw