Yikes! Stripes! The Striped Skunk

Since the months of  February and March are peak breeding seasons for striped skunks, you may have seen- or smelled the furry rascals as they performed a search for true love. The black and white mammals’ cousins in other areas sport spots that may be beige or black and white. However, Lake County skunks are the striped variety. Their fur’s pattern is considered a warning signal for predators to keep their distance, but if that doesn’t do the trick, they are programmed to spray their obnoxious scent. The skunk’s stink originates from its two anal scent glands that hold a chemical concoction comprised of sulfurs with a scent so strong it can ward off a bear.

Skunks are quite accurate when they detonate their spray and can squirt their target at around ten feet away. They prefer to use their ‘weapon’ sparingly and only as a last resort since their body can hold only half a dozen doses before they need to recuperate and recharge for around a week and a half. Many people used to believe that if sprayed by a skunk, the smell could be eliminated with a  tomato juice rinse, but according to the Humane Society, a mixture of laundry detergent and baking soda is more effective.

Striped skunks are mainly nocturnal but are also crepuscular or active at night prior to dawn’s early light and the day’s end at dusk. That’s when they are on the prowl for prey such as salamanders, snakes, lizards, bees, wasps, and larvae. These mammals are omnivores; therefore, they also subsist on grasses, berries, nuts and fungi as well, using their long claws to dig up goodies under logs, in stumps, and in the ground. They den under handy shelters- hence the sighting of a skunk emerging from under the steps to my pottery studio one day! Thankfully, he didn’t take up residence there.

They also make use of abandoned burrows and crevices in rocky areas. The adult skunk, which ranges in size from 15-40 inches with a 10-inch tail, and weighing in at up to 18 pounds, will lead its offspring single file to teach it how to forage with their snouts and claws. Besides automobile encounters, skunks’ main killers are great horned owls and other birds of prey with a poor sense of smell. Occasionally a starving animal may consume a skunk, but that is not common. Also, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, bobcats, mountain lions, and foxes are known to prey on skunks!

Striped skunk- notorious or not? If you happen to observe the funky beast raise its tail, stomp, and growl, consider yourself more than adequately warned. The next step involves the unpleasant discharge of his oily odorous spray!

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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