By Barbara Walvoord
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Feb. 10-17, 2018
Our skunk females at Lathrop have not been truly hibernating, though they have been hunkering down in dens, sometimes with several other adults, sinking into a torpor, but emerging during balmy nights to search for nuts, seeds, old berries, mice, voles, garbage, and food left out for birds, cats, or dogs. Skunks prefer a second-hand den dug by foxes or woodchucks, but if they have to, they’ll dig their own den, which might extend 3-4 feet below the surface and be up to 20 feet long, ending in a comfy chamber lined with grass and leaves.
About mid-February, our lady skunks are beginning to look for love, though from our point of view, it’s hard to tell what a gal sees in this mating thing. When she finds a guy, he holds her by the scruff of the neck with his teeth and climbs on from the rear. After sex, he wanders off to find other females, and when the babies are born, about two months later, he takes no responsibility for any of them. In fact, if he finds them, he may even kill them.Meanwhile, Mom will be caring for 3-10 babies who are born blind, deaf, and helpless. She’ll nurse them in the den for a month and a half. Then they’ll waddle along behind her, needing food and protection, for up to 8 months.
She’ll defend herself and her kits from danger by stamping her feet, arching her back, and hissing. She uses her spray only as a last resort, but then watch out. She can spray up to 15 feet, up to five consecutive times.
In the summer, in addition to defending and home-schooling her youngsters, she will forage for all of them, adding birds’ eggs, turtle eggs, wasps’ nests, and the grubs of Japanese beetles and June beetles to their mouse-and-fruit diet. She needs a varied habitat with woods, fields, and wetlands, full of seeds, nuts, berries, turtles, salamanders, rodents, birds, and the abundance of insects that feed on native plants. As we protect our land, we create the rich hunting ground this hard-working single mom will need.