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Striped |Skunks "Perhaps the Real King of the Forest"

11/13/2019 4:42 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

Growing up, my Uncle Joe had some unsavory pet nicknames for me: Hammerhead, Bill de Bob, His Girl Bill and Pepe Le Pew.  If you don’t know Pepe, he was the always unwelcome, overly amorous cartoon skunk who did not take no for an answer from his targeted paramours.  Not a cartoon for todays times to be sure.  Here at Umstead, I have seen two road-killed striped skunks just outside the park but have yet to see a skunk or skunk tracks in the park.  I hope they are still here.

I have had some run ins with skunks in the past and for the most part, they have behaved admirably well.  One skunk sashayed into my campsite at Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso and boldly walked to where two buddies and I were eating at the picnic table.  We sat stone still, and he came close enough to our legs to feel his fur.  It was like a King passing near peasants, like we weren’t there.

Contrary to popular belief, skunks do not spray first and ask questions later.  They go through a process of hissing, growling, arching their backs and lifting their tail over their back to display agitation over a perceived threat.  They may even stamp their feet and if the threat remains, they arch their bodies unto a U-shape, from which they are ready, willing and able to fire.

I was sprayed while camping one night with my wife, our dog Katie, and our nine-month-old son in Pisgah National forest.  The skunk attempted to nose his way into our tent which awakened Katie, a notorious scrapper and small animal killer, who destroyed the tent door to get out and deal with the interloper.  She pursued the skunk, a slow animal with a top speed about 10 m.p.h, which stopped about 10 ft. from the tent, turned and fired; effectively stopping my dog on a dime.  The spray hit me in the door of the tent with a small dose, but enough.  The wife, not even knowing what was happening, was out of the back flap with the boy like some movie ninja, saving both from getting hit.  I knew in my heart already but stood confirmed by her uncaring actions about my wellbeing that I was now, a distant second string in her heart.

Katie was rubbing her eyes with her paws, salivating profusely, and I was crying and felt nauseous.  The skunk was forgotten by us both, no doubt ambling away, unconcerned.  We got out of the “area of stink” and went down to the creek together to try and get the stink off.  A task easier said than done.  My clothes would be thrown away, but Katie’s fur would stink for a solid three months.  Tomato juice, soap, dishwashing liquid, vanilla extract were all equally ineffective.  The most effective remedy was a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dawn liquid soap mixed together. 

Skunks are a member of the Mustelidae(Weasel) family, all of which have twin anal scent glands about the size of a grape.  None of the other members of the weasel family have the skunk strike capabilities.  When not trying to steal human food, striped skunks eat insects, worms, berries, carrion, small rodents and many other delicacies.  Not many animals will attack a skunk more than once, which proves the saying “It is good to be the king.”   If you doubt this claim, these videos of a mountain lion and bear encounter with a skunk may help.

Know more to see more,

Ranger Billy

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The Umstead Coalition

We are dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.