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Did you know…? - How much do we know about skunks?

Did you know that a group of skunks is called a surfeit?

Skunks, also called polecats, are mammals in the family Mephitidae, which means “stink.”

The skunk family is composed of 11 species, 9 of which are found in the Western Hemisphere.

Although skunks have very poor eyesight, they have excellent senses of smell and hearing.

They are infamously known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, unpleasant scent from their anal glands, and for their digging habits.

According to Havahart, a skunk's sulfuric spray has a range of up to 10 feet, and its odor can be detected up to 1.5 miles.

Why do skunks spray?

Skunks use their anal glands as a defense mechanism, so it is a common misconception that skunks spray all the time. Skunks in fact, only use their spray when they feel they have exhausted all of their other threat behaviors.

A skunk’s anal glands have evolved into two nipples that extend out of the anus in order to spray.

Skunks are capable of coordinating their sphincter muscles in order to control the direction these nipples spray.

And, by making the opening of the nipples larger or smaller, they can adjust the consistency of the spray.

If a skunk knows who their enemy is, they will probably aim a stream directly at their target.

In the case where skunks are being chased by a predator but cannot see it, the spray is emitted as an atomized cloud that the pursuer must run through.

Skunk spray is so potent that it can induce vomiting and cause temporary blindness but does not transmit rabies.

ABC Humane Wildlife, in fact, reports rabies is only transmitted through being bitten (saliva) or brain tissue.

Although skunks will leave holes in your lawn when digging for insects, they can actually eat almost anything and as a result, it’s very easy for them to thrive in different habitats including deserts, forests, and mountains.

Did you know that skunks are immune to snake venom?

Skunks, in fact, are known to eat poisonous snakes like rattlesnakes.

But what animals eat skunks?

Skunks are mainly eaten by great horned owls but also by eagles, crows, vultures, coyotes, foxes, dogs, bobcats, mountain lions, American badgers, and even humans, according to Britannica.

Did you know that skunks are crepuscular, meaning they come out mostly at dusk and dawn?

They are solitary creatures when not breeding, though in colder climates females may den together.

After mating, the male is driven off, and the female raises the litter of 2 to 12 offspring (kits) alone. Kits are born from about the end of April through early June.

Breeding occurs in the spring, except in the Western spotted skunk, who breeds in the fall but undergoes a period of delayed implantation lasting about 150 days.

Eastern spotted skunks breed at the same time of year as other skunks, resulting in both species’ producing litters at the same time.

Skunks’ average lifespan in the wild is 3 years. In captivity, they may live for up to 10 years.

Automobiles are a major cause of mortality for skunks in the United States.

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Pictures via Wikipedia

Additional sources:

National Geographic Kids - Threehugger

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