Hensley to Heart: I Smell a Skunk!

Published 6:21 am Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I have smelled and seen around twenty-five dead skunks in the last couple of weeks.

There were so many, I lost count. Most of the sightings were while I was out driving through Poor Valley in Virginia as I tried to soak up some sunshine through the windshield. I couldn’t help wondering why so many dead skunks on the road right now.

Skunks are black furry mammals with distinct white stripes down the back and tail. They eat both meat and plants.

According to nexls.com, “They eat insects and larvae, earthworms, grubs, rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles and eggs. They also commonly eat berries, roots, leaves, grasses, fungi and nuts.” They love honey bees and honey. Their thick fur protects them from stings. They also eat human trash if they make their home in settled areas.

I had an uncle, Enos Hensley, that loved the smell of skunks. He said it opened his sinuses. Most of us don’t feel that way about the familiar stench associated with skunks.

The foul spray they emit is their defense mechanism against predators. “Once a skunk sprays, it is estimated that it takes up to a week to refill their scent gland.” (Onekindplanet.org) A skunk will try to warn a predator by stomping the ground and raising their tail before they spray.

I’ve heard hunters say that if one of their dogs tangles with a skunk once, it will be the last time they ever do it. The scent of skunk spray from a close encounter is overwhelming for the animal on the receiving end. It is something the dog and the hunter will not soon forget. A soaking mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda is said to help get rid of the stink.

The reason we don’t see skunks in winter is not because they hibernate all winter, but because they live in dens with other skunks during the coldest months. Home may be a hollow logs or other safe hiding places. They are also nighttime hunters. The higher temperatures and sunshine we’ve been experiencing seems to have drawn them out of hiding.

Skunks are not the favorite food for natural predators and are immune to snake bites. Unfortunately, skunks do not have good vision. This is most likely the reason so many of them get run over on highways.

Baby skunks are called kits and are blind when born. Their eyes are sealed shut until around the age of 3 weeks, according to the San Diego Zoo. They are weaned at two months old. After they are weaned, they leave the den and at to ten to twelve months old they are ready to have their own kits. Their litters can range from two to ten kits.

Skunks are not dangerous creatures but are curious. I was once photographing a skunk family coming up a hill at the Cumberland Falls resort near Corbin, Kentucky.

I zoomed in on one which I anticipated would pass in front of me at a few yards while I hid behind a tree. I ducked out of sight for a few seconds to allow the critter to get within a good focusing range. When I looked back, I didn’t see the skunk. I stood very still and scanned the forest edge. Nothing.

When I felt a nudge at my toes, I found the skunk sniffing of my foot and looking up at me. With my zoom lens, the little guy was too close for me to focus and get a photo! I stayed very still and when he lost interest, he waddled away to join the rest of the family.

I enjoy seeing these interesting creatures in pastures or at the edge of woodlands, but my advice is to see them from a distance.

Judith Victoria Hensley is a retired teacher, writer, photographer and columnist for over 25 years for Harlan Enterprise.