Wild Profile: Meet the striped skunk

Published: March 24, 2020

skunk By Cynthia Kidwell/Shutterstock

On March days, when the snow has barely started to melt, our stinkiest mammal, the striped skunk, is looking for love. Skunks come out of their winter dens hungry for romance. Well, and food: by this point, they’ve lost about half of the weight that they gained in the fall. But mating comes first, dammit! One male skunk might mate with as many as 10 females, one after the other.

Why are skunks so eye-wateringly stinky? Their spray, which they squirt out of two jets from scent glands at their back ends, contains butyl mercaptan. This, of course, was once used to make a little chemical warfare agent called mustard gas. Yikes! Skunks aren’t necessarily that great at aiming, but they can strike a target predator from up to four metres away. The wind then carries the scent much, much further.

Keep in mind that skunks will only spray if they’re cornered and feel that they have no other choice. They can spray about fives times in a row, but then they need to reload; this can take up to a few days, leaving the skunk without its key defence mechanism. Skunks are so recognizable for a reason: their white stripes tell predators to stay away. (It doesn’t seem to work for dogs, though.) Skunks also hiss, growl, and stamp their feet when threatened, as a warning. (Again, dog don’t care!)

If your pooch does get sprayed a skunk—and it might, in cottage country—use a mix of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and soap to remove the stench, being careful not to get any in the dog’s eyes. Interestingly, skunks seem to know how bad they smell. Their dens are scent-free—they wisely avoid spraying in this confined space.

If skunks are on the scene, it means winter is over. Here are 12 signs that spring has arrived in cottage country.

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