May is SKUNK MONTH here at Calgary Wildlife, and we have so much to tell you about our stinky friend the skunk.
Did you know that skunks belong to a very specific family of mammals, the Mephitidae? But why do they get their own classification from their cousins in the Mustelidae or weasel family? While all members of both families have well-developed scent glands and a musky odour, the skunk (and stink badger, the other member of Mephitidae) are the family's most outstanding and stinky members, with anal glands so well developed, they earned their own classification! Even the skunks scientific name, mephitis, is a Latin word meaning bad odour.
The striped skunk is the most common of four skunk species found in North America and the only one to call Alberta home. While it can be found across the province, it is most common in the densely populated central and southern parts.
Skunks are roughly the size of a cat, but have stout bodies, rather small heads, short legs, and bushy tails. Their small heads fit conveniently, but sometimes too snugly, into enticing open jars.
So make sure to properly dispose of your jars by thoroughly cleaning them out before putting them in the bin. Squashing tin cans and cutting plastic drink lids also prevents skunks from getting caught up and injured by our trash.
Stay tuned all month for more fun and smelly striped skunk tidbits.
Let's talk a little bit more about skunks and their spray!
When people think about skunks, they generally think about their foul-smelling, defensive spray that they discharge when scared or threatened. Most of us have experienced this unpleasant odour along roadways and on dogs that have come across skunks. But there is so much more to learn about skunks and their spray!
Generally, people avoid skunks and have little tolerance for their presence, but did you know that skunks are not spraying people willy nilly. Skunks give plenty of warning signals and only spray when they feel like they really have to for self defense.
Skunks themselves are walking warning signals, their high contrast stripes called aposematic colouring say "Stay Away". Before a skunk discharges its scent glands, it will usually give several warnings; by stamping its feet rapidly, raising its tail straight up (sometimes standing on its front feet), clicking its teeth, and growling or hissing. A skunk generally sprays only as a last resort, preferring to retreat from danger, rather than using up their limited amount of spray.
Did you know that a skunk can discharge a spray as far as 4 to 5m and spray up to 6 times in succession? It takes up to 10 days to replenish the supply of liquid after full discharge, during which time the skunk is left vulnerable.
So, please remember that the skunk is not an aggressive animal and will always try to retreat from a human or other large enemy before resorting to spraying. Despite their stinky reputation they are just another wonderful animal living their life in and around where we live. As an added bonus, skunks eat many insects like wasps and snails, and rodents too, keeping your community's mouse population low!