Lifestyle

In the Air Tonight

Striped skunks ready to leave winter behind
By Jenn Kirts
chippewanaturecenter.org
 
With warmer temperatures, the familiar odor of skunk returns to our backyards and roadways. These medium-sized members of the weasel family are a similar size to house cats, weighing up to 11 pounds and stretching just 2 feet long from nose to tail.
Well known for their ability to spray perceived predators with foul-smelling musk, these mild-mannered neighbors usually give ample warning before releasing their defense. Their black-and-white coloring is a message to animals of all kinds that the skunk should not be provoked. If someone does not heed the color-coded warning, the striped skunk arches its back, raises its tail and stomps its feet in an attempt to intimidate the threating individual. If all of that fails, the skunk unleashes its oily musk, hitting targets up to 10 feet away. Once hit, the aggressor may experience nausea or temporary blindness, allowing the skunk to escape unharmed.
Winter is a difficult time for striped skunks. Their summer diet of insects, berries, worms, eggs and frogs are not available, so they are limited to small mammals such as voles. They cope with cold weather by finding an abandoned woodchuck burrow, a cozy spot beneath a porch or a pocket under a pile of rocks. Despite denning in small groups to conserve heat and dropping their body temperatures by 10 degrees, striped skunks may still lose over 50% of their body weight during the winter season. They stay in this state of inactivity for the coldest days, but will emerge on warmer winter days to refuel by scavenging or hunting a small mammal.
Come March and April, striped skunks are ready to put the challenges of winter behind them and begin seeking a mate. Females are pregnant for just over two months and give birth to a half-dozen kits in an underground den. The young stay close to the den for just over two months, after which time they will follow the mother as she teaches them to hunt and forage. Young males will leave mom late in the summer, eventually setting up a territory of up to 1,200 acres. Females will sometimes overwinter with their mom, enjoying access to her smaller territory of 500 to 900 acres. Come next spring, the kits of this year will be ready to start their own families.

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