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Wednesday's Wildlife: Calgary Skunks

They’re black, they’re white, and they’re cute? Hello stripey skunks!


Four or five juvenile striped skunks cuddled together
Figure 1: Baby striped skunks cuddled together.

Early morning or late evening is when one might encounter a family of skunks.  Striped skunks are nocturnal and are most active when we sleep.  Skunks naturally manage local rodent populations, while also eating wasps, slugs, snails, and other grubs.

 

Skunk kits are born in May and June. Kits are born blind and require their mother’s milk and care. Six-week-old kits can forage with their mother.


Juvenile striped skunk looking at the camera.
Figure 2: Juvenile striped skunk.

Skunks have an excellent sense of smell leading them to our garbage. Unrinsed peanut butter jars and food cans are attractants. Because a skunk’s head is wedge shaped, they can put their head into these containers but not get them out. Please rinse and crush cans and cut any plastic rings and lids to avoid ensnaring a skunk!


Three images of an adult striped skunk with a round plastic drink lid stuck around its neck.  Last image shows how to cut these lids so wildlife doesn't get ensnared.
Figure 3: Adult striped skunk with a lid stuck around its neck. Please cut plastic loops and round lids before disposal.


A skunk’s best defence relies on teaching predators (and people) to “stay away”.  The skunk does this in several ways:

·      High-contrast black and white fur is memorable and visible. Colouring which warns predators to “stay away” is called aposematic colouring (wasps and bees are further examples of this).

·      When feeling threatened, skunks will stomp their feet, charge, hiss, and raise their tail.  These behaviours give predators (and people) a chance to back away.  A skunk would prefer to retreat, or have the threat retreat, rather than spray.

·      Skunks have a limited amount of spray. Skunks can spray up to fifteen feet with accuracy.  They curl in a c-position and look where they are aiming.  Skunks can spray five or six times.  Once their supply is exhausted, it can take ten days to regenerate! Skunks use this potent defence in moderation—skunks do not want to spray us!

 

A wildlife comic about coexisting with skunks: this shows how the black and white (aposematic) colouring of the striped skunk warns other animals (and people) to stay away!
Figure 4: Calgary Wildlife Comic: "Animal Barcodes".

Skunks have poor vision and rely on us to spot and avoid them. Please keep pets on leashes during times when skunks may be foraging. See stripes? Back away and be alright!


If you observe a wild animal in need of help, please call our hotline at:

403-214-1312.





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