Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Sweet Smell of Suburbia

Over the years, Steve and I have been charmed and fascinated by the variety of creatures that have wandered through our yard. Deer gracefully prancing with their playful fawns, baby woodchucks waddling around the garden and even a lumbering brown bear and her cub. We are nature lovers and enjoy watching the animals and birds that migrate our way. However, this week we saw a sight out our kitchen window that, while cute, caused us to draw a collective breath.

In our back yard toward sunset, we saw a fluffy black and white creature crawl out from under our shed. Then we saw four small ones follow her. As we watched them having a mini-convention, we weren’t sure whether to feel our usual gush of wonder or a creeping sense of dread over what these creatures, en masse, might be capable of doing to the contents of our shed and the air quality around our house.

"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself."—Abraham Lincoln

I reminded Steve that skunks eat insects. He nodded. I pointed out how cute the miniature versions were that followed after their mother. He agreed. Then silence. That's all I had.

So here are some fun facts about skunks, courtesy of National Geographic:
Our new neighbor, courtesy:
  • A skunk sprays its prey with an oily liquid produced by glands under its bushy tail. If you see a skunk turning around to face its back to you, run fast. It is capable of spraying its foul-smelling scent up to ten feet
  • While skunk spray can’t really hurt you, its horrible odor can last for many days
  • Skunks usually nest in burrows constructed by other animals. That would explain why they are living under our shed. For many years, a family of groundhogs have lived there. Skunks can also live in hollow logs or even abandoned buildings. Skunks may den with other skunks or another animal of a different species. It is not uncommon for different skunk families to den together
  • February marks the start of the adult skunk-breeding season. March/April is breeding season for yearling females. With a gestation period of seven to ten weeks, adults have their young during the first part of May, and yearlings during the first part of June. The skunk babies are called kittens. They stay with their mothers until fall. Typically, skunks only have one litter a year, with between one to 15 young. The most common litter size is four to six kittens
  • The typical home range of a skunk is ½ mile to 2 miles, but a male may travel up to five miles every night during breeding season (like anything in life, it's all about motivation)
  • Skunks eat a varied diet. They come out at night to forage for fruit, plants, insects, larvae, worms, eggs, reptiles, small mammals, and even fish
  • Europeans will be happy to note that nearly all skunks live in the Americas, except for the Asian stink badgers that have recently been added to the skunk family
  • The average life-span of a skunk is three years
  • Skunks do not officially hibernate. They do become "slow" or dormant for approximately a month during the coldest part of the winter
“I chased a polecat up a tree, way out upon a limb, and when he got the best of me, I got the worst of him.”—Bashful, Snow White

The delightful Malaysian stink badger, courtesy: Dennis Ikon
I began reading articles sponsored by pest companies that made skunks sound like Satan's minions from Hell. They warned that skunks attract more skunks and if not removed can destroy your property. So I called up a benign-sounding company called Critter Catcher. Steve and I did not want the skunks killed, just relocated to a nice condo in Florida.

George, the man who answered the phone, told me that everything I had read was wrong. Apparently, pest companies like to build a fear factor so they can make money off of it. He said skunks only come out at night to feed, rarely spray unless attacked and would do no harm to our property. He advised the following:
  1. Wait them out. The kittens will grow up and go away.
  2. If they persist, wait until dark and they are away feeding, put up a chicken wire fence and they will have to find another place to live. They do not burrow under fences.
  3. If all else fails and we really need to relocate the skunks, call Critter Catcher back and he will see what he can do.
George told us that he had had skunks on his property one year, then they went away and didn't come back. So, for now, we are taking pictures, being philosophical and admiring our fluffy new neighbors from afar. Such is life in the wild kingdom of suburban New Jersey.


  1. For it would be perfect to get some of those animals in my backyard, I have long time without seeing one of them I'd have to go to the zoo to see them.

  2. Wildlife is fascinating. We're in their backyard, not the other way around!