Skunks: the not-so-sweet aroma of spring

Posted April 04, 2014, at 9:47 a.m.
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The changing of seasons is accompanied by distinct scents. For spring, it’s the fresh air after a rain storm, the faint fragrance of new green growth and the earthy aroma of mud. But one particular spring scent in Maine snuffs out the rest — the remarkably noxious odor of a skunk.

Skunks don’t hibernate. In fact, they’re sometimes seen traversing the snow on a mild winter day. But as a rule, they spend winter in their dens, the entrance plugged with leaves and grass. During late winter, they mate. And by April or May, they’re caring for a brood of five or six little stinkers.

These furry critters — black with two distinctive white stripes — are relatively mild-tempered and will only grow to about the size of a housecat, yet they easily make the top 10 list of animals to fear in Maine.

The reason is quite clear — in fact, it will clear your sinuses.

Skunks stink. And what’s worse — they can make you stink, too. Just one spray of skunk musk (emitted from the animal’s rear end) will make a person stink for weeks. For this reason, skunks generally are avoided. And as a result, most people don’t know a whole lot about them. Here are a few interesting skunk facts, gleaned from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website:

- When it comes to food, skunks aren’t particularly picky. They’ll eat rodents, birds, eggs, insects, vegetation, garbage, bird seed — whatever. But sometimes they do go through measures to make insects more palatable. Skunks have been observed rolling caterpillars along the ground to remove the insects’ hairs, and ironically enough, skunks will also roll certain odor-emitting beetles on the ground to deplete their scent.

- Nocturnal animals, skunks begin foraging at dark and are usually back in their dens before daylight.

- Skunks have bad eyesight and will often approach a person who is standing still. If this happens, slowly move away. Any fast movements or loud sounds may be interpreted as a threat.

- On a still day, a skunk can spray its smelly, amber-colored musk up to 12 feet with good accuracy. The odor is so strong that humans can detect it more than a mile away, and it may just cling to someone’s skin for weeks. If nothing is done to wash it away, the odor could persist up to four months.

- Skunks can spray five to eight times before having to “reload,” which takes about a week.

- A skunk will often stomp its front feet and make short charges as a warning before it sprays. When preparing to spray, it will turn away, pointing its rear at the target. It’s a myth that they can spray over their backs.

- If you get sprayed, the quicker you do something about it, the more completely you can remove the odor. Washing with mildly acidic substances — such as carbolic soap, tomato juice or diluted vinegar — is most effective.

- A home remedy for washing off skunk musk: 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution, ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of liquid soap known for degreasing qualities. Mix the solution in a large, open container and use the entire mixture while it’s still bubbling. Work it into a lather and leave it on for 30 minutes. Follow with a long hot shower. Repeat as needed.

 

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