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Young skunks journey out on their own in August

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A young skunk explores his new surroundings at ann undisclosed location in the Ozarks. Although capable of stinking up the neighborhood, they usually don't unless cornered or threatened.

A young skunk explores his new surroundings at ann undisclosed location in the Ozarks. Although capable of stinking up the neighborhood, they usually don’t unless cornered or threatened.

August marks a time of transition, not only for humans, but wildlife as well. As children head back to the classrooms for a new school year, young skunks are striking out on their own, exploring their new surroundings for the first time.

In settled areas, skunks feed on garbage left by humans, so don’t be surprised if one shows up in your neighborhood. Less often, skunks may be found acting as scavengers, sniffing out  the carrion left by other animals. Owners of pets, particularly cats, may discover a skunk in the garage or even a basement where pet food is kept. Skunks commonly dig holes in lawns in search of grubs and worms.

Pioneers called this small black and white animal a “polecat,” but the Algonquin Indians gave it the name everyone uses today: squunck.

The skunk’s reputation precedes it, and so can its smell. Though the skunk itself is a clean animal with little body odor, it is able to produce an incredibly foul scent that is long-lasting and hard to get rid of. Scent-producing glands are under the skunk’s tail, and by using muscle control, the skunk can accurately shoot its oil-based musk up to 10 feet. Many a family pet has returned home smelling strongly of such an unwelcome encounter.

Prior to spraying, skunks usually warn intruders by stamping their feet and holding their tails high in the air. A skunk will also hiss, growl, or click its teeth together. Despite all the warnings, some animals entice the skunk to spray. Large owls, coyotes, badgers, foxes, and bobcats will occasionally attack skunks. But in the long run, skunks are not commonly preyed upon because of their ability to retaliate with smell.

Skunk litters are born from early May to early June. In August, young skunks begin to venture out under the watchful eye of their mother. As it gets cooler in late autumn, more time is spent in dens. When it’s near freezing, skunks become drowsy and sleep intermittently, but they do not truly hibernate.

Despite the skunk’s smelly reputation, the animals are good mousers and help control insects. They are interesting and valuable members of a farm wildlife community. This Missouri mammal is more than meets the eye, or rather, nose.

Learn more about Missouri’s smelliest critter on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online Field Guide at: http://on.mo.gov/2aU3boX.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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