|Skunks are mammals, usually with black-and-white fur, that are best known for their ability to excrete a strong, foul-smelling odour. They belong to the family Mephitidae and to the order Carnivora. There are 11 species of skunks, which are divided into four genera: Mephitis (hooded and striped skunks, two species), Spilogale (spotted skunks, two species), Mydaus (stink badgers, two species), and Conepatus (hog-nosed skunks, five species). The two skunk species in the Mydaus genus inhabit Indonesia and the Philippines; all other skunks inhabit the Americas from Canada to central South America.|
Skunks were formerly considered to be a subfamily of the Mustelidae family of weasels and related animals (where some taxonomists still place them), but recent genetic evidence shows that they are not as closely related to the Mustelidae as formerly thought.
Skunks are sometimes called polecats because of their visual similarity to the European polecat (Mustela putorius), a member of the Mustelidae family.
Anal scent glands
We saw also a couple of Zorillos, or skunks,--odious animals, which are far from uncommon. In general appearance the Zorillo resembles a polecat, but it is rather larger, and much thicker in proportion. Conscious of its power, it roams by day about the open plain, and fears neither dog nor man. If a dog is urged to the attack, its courage is instantly checked by a few drops of the fetid oil, which brings on violent sickness and running at the nose. Whatever is once polluted by it, is for ever useless. Azara says the smell can be perceived at a league distant; more than once, when entering the harbor of Monte Video, the wind being off shore, we have perceived the odor on board the "Beagle." Certain it is, that every animal most willingly makes room for the Zorillo.
Skunks are reluctant to use their smelly weapon, as they carry just enough of the chemical for five or six uses, about 15 cc, and require some ten days to produce another supply. Their bold black and white coloring however serves to make the skunk's appearance memorable. Where practical, it is to a skunk's advantage to simply warn a threatening creature off without expending scent: the black and white warning color aside, threatened skunks will go through an elaborate routine of hisses and foot stamping and tail-high threat postures before resorting to the spray. Interestingly, skunks will not spray other skunks (with the exception of males in the mating season); though they fight over den space in autumn, they do so with tooth and claw.
The singular musk-spraying ability of the skunk has not escaped the attention of biologists: the names of the family and the most common genus (Mephitidae, Mephitis) mean "stench", and Spilogale putorius means "stinking spotted weasel". The word skunk is a corruption of an Abenaki name for them, segongw or segonku, which means "one who squirts" in the Algonquian dialect.
From Popular Science, chemist P Krebaum provided the recipe for the bathing concoction. One quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, one quarter cup of baking soda, and one quarter cup of liquid soap. (Dawn works about the best) Bathe your pet in this solution and rinse with tap water. Krebaum warned that there is no way to store this potion. "If you put the ingredients in a bottle, the whole thing would explode.
Unlike the fictional "Flower" in the movie Bambi, real skunks do not hibernate in the winter. However they do remain generally inactive and feed rarely. They often over winter in a huddle of one male and multiple (as many as twelve) females. The same winter den is often repeatedly used whether under a house or in a tree.
Although they have excellent senses of smell and hearing — vital attributes in a crepuscular omnivore — they have poor vision. They cannot see objects more than about 3 meters away with any clarity, which makes them very vulnerable to road traffic. Roughly half of all skunk deaths are caused by humans, as road kill, or as a result of shooting and poisoning. They are short-lived animals: fewer than 10% survive for longer than three years.
In case of a skunk bite, follow these directions as a precaution against rabies or other infection. (If a situation with a biting animal is out of control, call emergency services immediately.) If possible without further injury, retain the skunk, dead or alive, to assess and prevent the risk of spreading disease - if the animal is dead, place on ice or refrigerate. Wash the wound thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water. Place pressure to stop any bleeding. See your doctor or emergency medical services as soon as possible - within no more than 72 hours, and sooner depending on the severity of the wound or any difficulties in stopping bleeding. Call your local animal control agency to take the skunk away. Ask to have it tested for rabies. Once a doctor has looked over the wound, ask if a tetanus shot is necessary or recommended (tetanus vaccinations are typically good for ten years). When the test results are finished on the skunk, you will be told if you should get the post-exposure rabies vaccine series or not.
As a skunk's odor is generally considered to be offensive, people living in areas known to be inhabited by skunks are advised to take certain precautions to prevent skunks from taking up residence where they are not wanted. As skunks commonly make their dens in wood or junk piles, it is recommended that these be kept to a minimum. Skunks are scavengers and frequently go after garbage. Garbage should be stored in tightly sealed cans.
A fence extending one or two feet into the ground is sufficient to prevent skunks from making a den underneath a house or other structure. If a skunk should take up residence under the building, bags filled with mothballs or washcloths drenched with ammonia can be used to encourage skunks to leave. Securing a rope to the bag or cloth will make removal easy later on. Flour or other non-toxic white powder can be sprinkled around the den entrance to track foot prints. One should check for fresh foot prints from the skunk leading out, but not going back in. It is better to check in the morning as the skunks will be more likely to be active at night.
After all the skunks have left, one should then block up any entrances that the skunk may have used along with the entrance to the skunk's den. If it is suspected that there are more skunks living in the den, a door should be constructed at the den's entrance that is hinged at the top, and extends approximately six inches (15 cm) beyond the entrance. It should be placed at a right angle to the direction of travel and should not be air tight. This can be an effective technique as it allows the skunks to exit their den, but makes it difficult for them to get back in.
Domesticated skunks can legally be kept as pets in certain U.S. states, listed where captive-bred pet skunks are legal. From time to time, the laws in states will change regarding skunk ownership. Because of this, please use this list with caution.
When the skunk is kept as a pet, the scent gland is removed, which involves a process that some people object to as cruelty. Typical life spans for domesticated skunks are considerably longer than for wild skunks, often reaching 10 years, though it is not unusual for a well cared skunk to live well past 20 years. Some skunks were reported by European settlers in America as being kept as pets by certain Native Americans. The Pilgrims are said to have kept skunks as pets.
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