Something could stink around here

October 27, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

For the past several weeks, we've noticed the scent a certain visitor has left behind in our yard. Because he is nocturnal, our black-and-white-striped friend is seldom seen during the day.

As we have returned home from soccer games or evening services at church, we have caught a few glimpses of this little guy waddling back to his home.

There is a skunk living near our house, and we are cautiously curious.

Each time we pull in the drive after dark, our car creeps down the driveway. Both kids lean as far forward as their seat belts will allow. I drive slowly not only to give them an opportunity to see the skunk. I also want to avoid hitting him with my vehicle. I don't want the critter to be harmed, of course, but I also don't want to think about the mess that would follow.

If I take an early morning walk, my eyes are constantly scanning the landscape. I don't think my third-graders would appreciate a teacher who smells like Pep Le Pew. My son is also cautious when he feeds our Australian Shepherd. He whistles all the way to the pen and back so he doesn't receive an unexpected shower.


We usually see only the back of our skunk as he returns to the patch of corn adjacent to our driveway. As soon as the headlights catch him, he runs for cover. Now that the corn has been harvested, we wonder whether he will find another home. Skunks don't hibernate in the winter, but they are inactive and eat sparingly.

They are shy animals and typically only spray their scent if threatened. Before resorting to their spray, they will hiss and stomp their feet. (Wouldn't that be enough to make most creatures run in the opposite direction?) Most animals avoid skunks, with the exception of owls, who have keen eyesight but a very poor sense of smell.

Skunks, on the other hand, have a very poor sense of sight and very keen senses of smell and hearing. Their strengths serve them well as they hunt at night.

Skunks are not picky eaters. They are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and animals.

A skunk's spray can reach a predator that is as far as 15 feet away. The spray, or musk as it is called, can burn the skin and cause temporary blindness if it lands in the eyes. Skunks carry enough musk for five to six uses, and it takes about 10 days to replenish that supply.

I call our skunk a "he," but it could be a she. I haven't seen any little ones running around, but from what I've read, it's not the time of year for that. Skunks typically mate in the early spring. As part of their mating ritual, male skunks bite female skunks on the back of the neck. My son and I read about that in a book we got from the library when we were trying to learn more about our new neighbor. We both had to chuckle at the mental image. (Now that's an interesting way to get a gal!)

While tomato juice is probably the most common remedy for a skunk's shower, some sources say a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid soap is more effective.

Let's hope none of us needs to test the effectiveness of either.

If your children are curious about skunks, check out these books from Washington County Free Library:

"Skunks Do More Than Stink!" by D.M. Souza

"What's Black and White and Came to Visit?" by Evan Levine

"Poppy's Return" by Avi

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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