Spotted and Striped Skunks Have Odorous Sprays

Be careful when identifying skunks or you might get sprayed.

| May/June 2012

You’ve been snookered before. You’ve been taken, cheated, bamboozled, hoodwinked, swindled, defrauded and double-crossed — perhaps without even knowing it. But if you’ve ever been skunked, you remember!

Imagine the surprise of the first native North American — or even the unlucky Pilgrim — who saw a pretty, furry, black-and-white skunk toddling through the woods and thought it might make a good pet for the youngsters. Imagine being captivated by the too-cute demeanor and charming little waddle of the kitten-sized creature. Imagine suddenly, irrevocably and violently understanding that a cat is one thing, but a polecat is quite an-odor.

The Algonquians called the little guys seganku. The colonists called them squnck, which morphed into what we call them today. To science, however, the skunk is known as Mephitis mephitis — and since one “mephitis” means “noxious smell,” well, scientists really want us to know that skunks, whether spotted or striped, hognosed or hooded, have one big claim to fame: They definitely stink.

Otherwise sweet creatures found only in North America, skunks don’t have a lot of enemies other than the great horned owl (whoooo, go figure, finds them delicious). Skunks are known to be gentle, relatively quiet and curious, with a great big sense of self-confidence. Their hearing leaves a lot to be desired, their vision isn’t the greatest, and, strangely enough, their sense of smell isn’t so good. They can’t (in the case of the striped skunk) or don’t like to (in the case of the spotted skunk) climb, they can’t run very fast (up to 6 mph for short bursts), and they don’t much care for a leisurely swim.

All indications are, you see, that the skunk is a bashful, nice guy who loves the night life and doesn’t want any problems. He’s so nice, in fact, that, if approached, he’ll warn you that he’s really armed and dangerous. He’ll tell you clearly that he’s locked and loaded, and although he really doesn’t want to, he’s not afraid to use his weapon.

As soon as he turns around, hunches his back, raises his tail and takes aim, though … RUN!

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