Bill Starr: Skunks very intelligent animals

Published 10:00 am Sunday, January 25, 2015

Some of you might remember when the only cartoons on Saturday morning were Bugs Bunny and all the characters associated with Bugs. One of those characters was a smooth talking skunk named Pepe le Pew. He, in his own mind, felt he was very attractive. Pepe was blissfully convinced that the girl cartoon characters were flirting with him even if they were physically assaulting him. Pepe had one huge turnoff to any prospective mates: His terrible scent. Pepe was a skunk that didn’t realize he had a terrible odor.

It seems I can’t drive anywhere around our area and not see or smell a dead skunk. I don’t know what the census would reflect as to the population of skunks in our area, but we would have to have one of the highest populations around. It seems here lately I have had quite a few calls about skunks, so I must not be the only one seeing them.

In Georgia most of the skunks that I see anyway are the striped skunks. Skunks are one of those creatures easily recognizable by colorations; skunks are usually black with two white stripes, but they can also have other colorations as well. In Georgia we have two different species of skunks, we have the striped skunk which is probably the most common, and we also have the eastern spotted skunk.

Some people refer to skunks as pole cats as most skunks are about the same size as domestic house cats. Skunks are perhaps best known for their defensive strategy; when confronted, striped skunks will face the threat, arch and elevate their tail, erect the tail hairs, chatter their teeth and stomp the ground with their front feet. This warning usually convinces most to retreat; however, if the threat remains, the skunk will twist around, raise its tail straight up, and squeeze its anal glands, spraying a foul secretion up to 15 feet away that may be detected up to a mile away.

Most animals are colored in such a way to blend in easily with their environment; skunks on the other hand have very noticeable markings which should indicate a warning to woul- be predators and others, to leave them alone. Even though the skunk gives off a putrid odor, owls are still a significant predator of skunks. Owls obviously have a very poorly developed sense of smell. I have seen one of those outdoor survival shows where one of the hosts actually eats a skunk. His very vivid description of how skunk meat tasted let me know that I will not be dining on skunk any time soon, if ever.

Skunks are omnivorous, which is a fancy way of saying that they will eat almost anything. They feed primarily on insects, larvae and earthworms, but they will eat almost anything if preferred food sources become scarce.

We are “blessed” in our area to have an abundance of skunks and for those of you who love trivia, do you know what a group of skunks is called? A surfeit. And finally — do you know where a skunk sits in church? In a pew, and once in church skunks will say “let us spray.” One more and I promise I’ll stop — why are skunks so smart? Because they have a lot of scents.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contac him at 229-924-4476.