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The Skunk, or Polecat

The Skunk

When the European savages came to the Americas they found a creature they'd never seen before, and one can only imagine the first pale faced invader to have come within the ten feet of a nervous skunk not only slept alone that night, but for at least the next week. Not only can it be imagined that any self respecting European immigrant wife wouldn't have someone laying next to her who smelled of that smell, she might have well put the poor fellow out of the house entirely.

I find the term the Europeans used to describe this creature, the polecat, as very interesting. In the past an online friend in Oklahoma had told me she'd found a litter of abandoned skunks near her home, and she had decided to raise them. She had told me they behave just like cats. Now, I've no idea about that. I've no intention to find out either. If I ever find a baby skunk, then I might be tempted into trying to take care of it, but I honestly do not wish to be offered the opportunity by anyone or any circumstance.

In any case, the term polecat didn't quite stick so well, but is a common colloquial vernacular term, and especially here in the South. The term that is here to stay, and existed for an indeterminate amount of time before the term polecat was coined, that of skunk, was what some Native American tribes had used for the animal's name.

An Adult Striped Skunk On The Snow


The Skunk, Can't You Smell That Smell?

Now please do not go off and think poorly of our mutual friend, the skunk, as our friend is a very unique fellow, and also serves some very valuable purposes in this world that we share with the skunk folk. While the sight of a snake or a rat might make someone jump - there are few animals in the wild that command the healthy respect that does the skunk. Pound for pound, you might say that the skunk commands more respect for his or her personal space than any creature on Earth that has no intentions of eating you.

Though the skunks of this world, and there are more than just one kind, mind you, have no intentions of eating you, dearest friends, they are omnivorous creatures who do sometimes eat carrion. So it's really best that you die somewhere where you'd be found by people before you are found by coyotes, or even skunks.

Of course there's no real reason for me to tell anyone living in the USA just why it is that we have such a healthy respect for the personal space of the skunks - but in case you live somewhere far away and are reading this, then just maybe you don't know just what it is that I've been alluding to. The skunk can, does, and will spray you, or anything else with an oil based odorous substance that has a reek so foul as to cause instant ostracism not only in the wild, but especially in polite human society. What else would you suspect from the most highly developed and dual anal scent glands within the entire animal kingdom?

Skunks can spray the mixture of sulfur,methyl, and butyl thiols a distance of about ten feet. There's no real description of this smell, but once one has smelled it, and all of us Texans have, there's no forgetting it. It's a smell strong enough to make any bear vacate the area, and besides that, it can cause major skin irritation and even temporary blindness should it get into one's eyes. Kudos, Sir or Madam Skunk, towards your super highly developed stink spray bomb defensive mechanism!

A Baby Striped Skunk


North American Striped Skunk Distribution


The Skunk Diet

Let's not get all up in arms or anything over that whole deal about the skunk and it's anal stink bomb glands, one on each side of the organ that serves to be the exit for what the skunk metabolism couldn't use. The skunks of this world absolutely do NOT want to be considered "terrorist" in the sense that ignoramus former US Presidents or Texas Governors would use to justify rounding them up and putting them all in a special skunk FEMA camps. The highly developed oil based stink spray is the last resort of the skunk....just like patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

It can take a skunk up to ten days to replenish it's amazing defensive and completely socially corrosive fluids. It doesn't waste them on whimsy, so please have some respect. There's been many a sad day in my life when one of my tail wagging four legged furry friends came when I called with a please please please still pet me look on their dog faces, and I wound up petting them just the same. The stuff seems mostly non transferable from whatever got sprayed to you. In other words, me petting my skunk sprayed Chow dog didn't make me smell, but the stuff probably dries or something. I'm positive that no one would pet a dog that had just then been sprayed. At least no one with a working olfactory sense

What do skunks eat? Well, mostly insects and larvae, including bees, which is a bad thing at this point in ecological history, but also all manner of stinging wasps, which is never a bad thing at all should you ask me. Skunks also eat mice, snakes, and other lizards, and also have a taste for bird eggs, and sometimes - chickens.

Yes, friends and neighbors, here on the Shaw farm more than one skunk has met with a very sad shotgun fate over the death of dad's chickens or the dastardly theft of the Shaw family eggs. It's pretty amazing that skunks ever manage to get inside the Fort Shaw chicken coops, but it happens.

On a more positive note, skunks also eat spiders, millipedes, centipedes, and various and sundry vegetation.

An Eastern Spotted Skunk


The Stink Badger

Now most Americans do not know about the Stink Badger, and as I'm somewhat representative of "most Americans" in some ways, I must admit that I didn't know about that Stink Badger either until I'd decided to create this presentation on the Skunk that you are viewing here. There are many species of stink badger occurring natively to many places other than just Malaysia - all of them have the ability to spray a; most foul defensive oil based fluid from anal organs as a manner of self defence.

I honestly had thought that the American Skunks were somewhat or totally unique to America, and they are; but their primary feature is NOT unique to the Skunks of the Americas.

Mydaus javanensis - The Malayan Stink Badger, a Skunk Relative


American Skunks

Despite having been told that skunks act just like cats, that's simply not true. Skunks might seem similar to cats, but they're so far and gone from being similar to cats that it's ridiculous to compare them to cats; but maybe it's fair to think that they somewhat act like cats when you're in need of something to compare their behaviour to for a commoner such as myself.

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Skunks are of the weasel family, which includes otters, badgers, ferrets, and, of course, weasels. Skunks vary in size from around fifteen inches in length all the way up to nearly forty inches in length, and vary in weight from around one pound all the way on up to eighteen pounds. All skunks are striped and are striped from birth.

All true skunks are, in fact, American - from Northern Mexico onward up to Most of Canada; following that - there are skunks in extreme Southern Mexico, and on down throughout "most" of South America - but there are many different species of skunk.Though stink badgers are found in various places in different species far far away, and they do share a common ancestor with the skunks, true skunks are native to only the Americas.

The North American Hog Nosed Skunk - Largest Of All Skunks

Skunks and Rabies

Finally, I must deal with some advice that I gave recently in a comment here on this site. I've been told all of my life here in North Eastern Texas that if one sees a skunk out and about going boldly about skunk business during the broad daylight hours - it is practically a public service to shoot that skunk, as only skunks who have rabies do skunk business during the bright hours of the day that are neither early morning nor late evening.

With the following link it seems to be that that is entirely UN TRUE, or FALSE. Skunks can and do come out and do any and every skunk business during the day as they please. It's only a lot less common than for them to be doing their skunk business under the moonlight.

HOWEVER, it is very important to know that skunks very often are the carriers of rabies, and should always be avoided when encountered in the wild. If the main and most memorable or identifiable attribute of skunks is not enough to deter you from interfering with skunks, then the fact that TWENTY ONE PERCENT OF ALL animal bites are...skunk bites, and that only raccoons carry rabies more than skunks certainly should!

Leave the skunks alone, folks, and if one acts aggressively towards you, then maybe you should shoot it.

© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 03, 2013:

Thanks very much Diana Lee !

Yes your cats wouldn't have viewed their friend the skunk as a threat, and vice versa - they only spray to get away from threats...if you had dogs, OH MY!

I remember many a sad day when one of my dogs smelled like skunk, and still begged for me to pet them...which I just had to do because I'd not have been able to take their sadness!

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on February 03, 2013:

This is very interesting. I live in the northern hills of Pennsylvania. We have our share of skunks here. As February approaches I know we will begin to see them more often as they are out and about for mating season.

One year we had a white skunk eat with our outside cats. The cats had no problem sharing with it and we seldom smelled skunk. That smell is unbearable and will bring on a headache quicker than most things will. Voted up.

Shaddie from Washington state on May 31, 2012:

That's my intended target! :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 30, 2012:

Thanks for all that info, Shaddie!!!

I don't know about pleasant weather, but in Texas you can own about any critter imaginable!

Shaddie from Washington state on May 30, 2012:

And to the above poster, grandmapearl, yes minks can emit an obnoxious odor! Anything in the Mustelidae family (except sea otters) are capable of releasing foul smells from their modified anal glands in order to ward off predators. This includes weasels, martens, stoats, badgers, wolverines, and minks.

Shaddie from Washington state on May 30, 2012:

Good hub! Domestic skunks are on the rise in some states that still allow exotic animal ownership. I intend to move to one such state, if not solely for the freedom to own one, but also because of the more pleasant weather ;)

Skunks can be likened in behavior to something between a ferret and a cat. They can be aloof like a cat, but mischievous like a ferret. Their diet, however, is definitely more omnivorous than either cat or ferret, and they relish carrots as treats! I find them to be highly suitable to domestic living, assuming you have their anal glands removed and undergo a neutering procedure (as with ferrets). They live about as long as a ferret and require much of the same care, except for the fact that they grow about the size of a cat.

AWESOME animals, VERY misunderstood! :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 29, 2012:

Thanks very much Angela, and thank you for your kindness to momma skunk and her children!!! Your children will surely remember and follow that kindness!!!!!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on May 29, 2012:

They are the cutest things I've ever seen. We had to stop the car to allow a mother walk in front of us crossing the road with three babies. It was so hard to keep my children quite. I didn't wan't to have the vehicle christened by an angry mother skunk! GREAT HUB AGAIN!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 19, 2012:

grandmapearl I BET THAT WHITE SKUNK LOOKS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I bet that a photo of that critter would be pretty special on the internet - if you can get a picture of it, then I think that you certainly should do that, and make a hub out of it!!!!

I've no idea about the minks, but I bet I find out sooner or later!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 19, 2012:

Hey The Stages Of ME, that's just exactly what I wanted you to do, and I'll add your link to this hub right away!

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on February 07, 2012:

Very well done. For several years now we have had a white skunk come around to check out the bird feeders at night. My cats have learned (one of them learned the hard way) to steer clear. You're right about the daytime visits. Regularly in summertime several of the skunks beat a path to the feeders around 5pm--way before dark.

Do you know if wild minks stink? One of our cats cornered a young critter that looked like a mink to me, but boy did it put out a major smell. It was a lot worse than any skunk I ever smelled, and it hung in the air for a long time!

Great Hub--Voted Up,Interesting and Awesome

Kathy Henderson from Pa on February 06, 2012:

Hi I do not know how to drop a link unless this is how LOL ~ Sorry showing my hub illiteracy ~ I learned a bunch when I researched these little critters as well ~ I have a new found respect for the skunks ~ ~ and no worries if you don't link it ~ I just thought you would enjoy the read ~ I love PePe Le pew and there is a cute video of him on my hub ~ Have a wonderful and blessed day

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 05, 2012:

Flickr - Thanks! Those little bitty ones are pretty cute, ain't they!

Flickr on February 05, 2012:

Stinky!! Cool hub and thanks for sharing. If I found a baby skunk that seemed 'abandoned' I'd consider raising it.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 04, 2012:

Thanks Very Much, The Stages Of ME - If you'll drop me a link here in the comments to yours - then I'll add your link to this hub somewhere.

Thanks very much, htodd, I had some fun creating this hub as well!

htodd from United States on February 04, 2012:

This is great post..Thanks

Kathy Henderson from Pa on February 04, 2012:

I just wrote a hub about my skunk experiences I have anew appreciation for the little critters:)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 02, 2012:

Thanks very much, larryriegle!!!!!!! "Fun To Read" - is THE BEST compliment I could have hoped for!

larryriegle on February 02, 2012:

nice job, you did the skunk due diligence and it was a hell of a lot of fun to read. glad i found this hub.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 02, 2012:

Ardie I'm about positive that those pellets work for skunks too if they work for raccoons. Skunks are a close second to the raccoon in percentages of rabies - but the raccoon IS the top rabies carrier.

That last picture down there - the Hog Nosed Skunk - you'd not have to worry about that fellow, he's just further South, and most often further South of me even.

Sondra from Neverland on February 02, 2012:

This was more information than I've ever seen on a skunk in one place :) You did excellent research! I have a skunk family that lives back in the woods and I am VERY careful to scan the yard before I let the dog out. BUT I never worried about rabies before - never dawned on me. I only worried about the scent. Ohio drops pellets sometimes to minimize rabies...they're mainly aimed at raccoons. I wonder if they would also attract and work on skunks. Thanks for filling me in!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 02, 2012:

Hey Willie - Yeah, those are the super ugly ones! They are very interesting birds though!

The black ones are only further South - and while the Turkey Vultures are just ugly, the Black Vultures look truly ominous. They look like they are wearing black KKK outfits or something.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 02, 2012:

Holy smoke Edd622 - that's a heck of an interesting story there. I need to investigate that.

DoItForHer on February 01, 2012:

The Turkey variety:

These guys are expanding their habitat from what I've seen.

Edd622 on February 01, 2012:

When I was growing up, my father used to tell us about the "pet" skunk they had when he was growing up. This was a wild one that was found and raised from a tiny baby. It lost its happy home when a stray dog ventured into the yard while it was sitting on Gramma's lap. But we had an elderly man across the road from us that used to trap skunks and pick up the dead ones along the road. He sold the scent glands and oil to the cosmetic companies for perfume base. Only the most expensive perfumes used that as the base for mainaining the quality smells for a whole day and even longer.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 31, 2012:

Turkey Vultures????? The most ugly red faced ones?

Dude, if Black Vultures are up your way - then THAT scenario is definite territorial expansion due to climate change.

DoItForHer on January 31, 2012:

I wondered that, too. There are vultures there now when I've never seen them before, so why not skunks?

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 31, 2012:

Hey Willie!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe the climate change is expanding their range?

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 31, 2012:

Thanks Eddy!!!!!!!!!!!!! You certainly wouldn't want to know first hand about these critters unless you were a zoo worker!

DoItForHer on January 30, 2012:

I saw a dead skunk near the top of Roger's Pass on the Continental Divide. I had never seen them up that high and was surprised to see it there. Wonder if it got hung up on a vehicle and dropped off where it normally wouldn't be?

Eiddwen from Wales on January 30, 2012:

I have to admit that out of all animals wild or domesticated Skunks are one of the ones that I know least about. So this one was great.

Good work and I vote up.

Take care;


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 23, 2012:

Evelyn Anne - There was a link about that in the article above....but a pound of prevention is worth a ton of cure!

Thank you very much, Josh Floyd! I didn't know either until I decided to find out! :-)

Josh Floyd on January 23, 2012:

Great article with very good research. I never knew skunks were so interesting.

Evelyn Anne on January 23, 2012:

Great article! I cannot hold my breath long enough to get away from the smell of a dead skunk on the highway, but I try. I especially enjoyed seeing the badger skunk and the spotted skunk; I had no idea about either. The most recent information I've heard about getting the stink out of an animal's fur is to rub him down with baking soda and douse him with hydrogen peryoxide. It seems to me that this has some validity but I am guessing it would take more than one application. At least you would not have the discoloration of the animal by the tomato sauce. Does anyone else have remedies for defeating the smell?

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 22, 2012:

Thank you very much Kitty! I enjoy learning about new critters, and I sure like to talk about them too!

Kitty Fields from Summerland on January 22, 2012:

I can't believe I actually enjoyed reading so much about the skunk! Voted up, useful, and awesome. And you're right about that...once you smell that smell, you'll never forget it. I had no idea that there are spotted skunks either...too cool! Thanks for sharing.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 21, 2012:

Thanks very much, Sis!!!!

I sure do like writing about these critters. I'm sure it's not where the money is at, and I don't even bother to put any sort of amazon or ebay stuff on these articles, but currently it's my favourite thing to do anyway!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on January 20, 2012:

Great research and presentation, Wes -- up until reading this Hub I thought I knew about all there was to know about skunks (including how to kill that smell on my dogs) but found out I wasn't as knowledgeable as I thought I was. Great Job! Voted Up. Best, Sis

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 20, 2012:

AliciaC - THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh those poor poor little tail wagging friends of ours!!!!

I've had some .....that were so busy defending our home here that....they didn't learn the first time around!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 20, 2012:

Simone Smith - THANK YOU!!!!!

They not only eat bees...and I failed to mention it, but might edit and add it...they also eat honey!!!

Who don't like honey? I'm thinking that Skunks like their cousins the super duper and very badass honey badgers.....don't much feel bee stings!!!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 20, 2012:

Hi Maddie Ruud!!!!

I'm thinking that you've DEFINITELY seen the super awesome and totally badass Honey Badger video!!!!!!!!!!!

If anyone here has NOT seen that video, then it's such a "must see" that I'll recommend it forthwith!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 20, 2012:

Pamela - the urban sprawl thing is just awful. Also, waste is a never ending part of .....being American, it seems.

Middle class folks mostly seem to want to live in a suburb, and the more that move the less a suburb is a suburb, and the more it becomes....another city.

I hate it. I really really hate it.

At the same time...I'm the same way. I don't want all these neighbours, I want them to just go away.

I'd live in Dallas again right where I lived in 2009 if I had the money to do so.....but I guess that isn't to be any time soon.

I like the country for the country. I'd like to live where I did for a short time again for the city life, and because I could possibly wind up with a real social life in such a situation; but whatever.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 20, 2012:

Hey Chris!!! Yes Sir!!! You'd definitely want those plexi glass zoo walls for skunk exhibits!!!

The employee skunk handlers - they are on their own!!!!!!!!!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 20, 2012:

Thanks for another interesting hub, and thank you for the information about both skunks and stink badgers. Skunks are common in my neighborhood, but thankfully they usually visit at night. I often smell their distinctive odor during the night but generally don't see them. My dog's been sprayed only once, when he encountered two youngsters in my garden.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 20, 2012:

Very interesting! I did not know that skunks came from the weasel family or that they ate bees... heck, I didn't know that ANYTHING ate bees! I think I respect 'em even more now :D

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 19, 2012:

Hey Mr. Happy! Of course that last bit about the daylight and the rabies was entirely inspired by our conversation elsewhere - and thanks for pointing me in the right direction on that end.

It's a weird deal as I NEVER see skunks unless it's early morning or just at sundown.

That Airedale Terrier sounds like my Chow dogs I used to have!!

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on January 19, 2012:

Badgers are badass. I had no idea there were "stink badgers," though. I'm in awe.

Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on January 19, 2012:

Yes it is, Wes. We have brand new houses sitting empty they can't sell but they keep clearing out trees to build more. I moved out here for the country but city has followed me so I may soon move back in town.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on January 19, 2012:

The closest I have ever came to a skunk is watching "Pepe Le Peu" on television. They don't even have them in zoos over here. I suppose that is because they would spray all the customers.

Another great article Wesman. Thanks for writing it.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on January 19, 2012:

Thanks for putting this together Mr. Wesman. Very interesting - I didn't even know there was more than one kind of our smelly friends lol. Well, smelly sometimes ...

I do love skunks, they look pretty cool in my mind and their defense mechanism is creatively brilliant!

We have lots of skunks here in Toronto, the ones with the long stripe on their back. Sadly enough I have had countless experiences with them because I owned an Airdale Terrier and this hunting dog had no fear. None of the Airdales really know what fear is ... So, she went right after them, wherever she found them and she would smell for months after ... nothing works to get rid of that smell. They tell you tomato juice, this or that ... naa ... it's hopeless lol

Great article! Cheers.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 19, 2012:

That is pretty shitty, Pamela. Humans seem to have no regards for anything else when there's money to be made.

Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on January 19, 2012:

They aren't all rabid but if you see one during the day there is a good chance they are. They will also move around if their den has been bothered. Recently an acreage near my home has been leveled of the trees making way for a neighborhood waking many skunks from hibernation. Terrible.

Great story, by the way.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 19, 2012:

Hi Judi Bee!!!!

Well, I didn't know that there were any in the U.K. or elsewhere in Europe!!!! It is said that the American ones have the ultimate in stink bombs!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 19, 2012:

Thanks Debby!!!!

It's not uncommon to smell them in a car even with the windows rolled completely up as you travel down a rural road.

Of course if you it one on the road, or one has been hit - you'll certainly smell them then.

Then there's dogs that learned the hard way and then come home! But of course where I am none of us fence dogs in - and to hell with the idiotic county rules, we just don't follow those idiotic county rules, and do not intend to start either.

Judi Brown from UK on January 19, 2012:

Interesting hub, I enjoyed reading it.

Our British (and European) polecats also spray to mark territory or when they are threatened, but I don't think the smell is so pungent as that of the American skunks.

Debby Bruck on January 19, 2012:

Hi Wes ~ Awesome job on the skunk research project. Skunks are people too! Yup, they want their independence and not to be bothered when going about their business. Seems they help clean up the environment as carrion eating varmints. Enjoyed reading all about skunks and their cousins that give off a warning or hit you hard when you get too close. Most Americans have smelled them near-by when traveling the back roads, the national parks, and in the country. Blessings, Debby

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