Saturday, November 15, 2008

Polecat

Normally I’m one to watch where I step, but on this day my eyes were to the trees searching for a bird and came close to being hosed by a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). There it was six feet from me slowly rooting for insects in the field that borders our house. The word "skunk" comes from the Algonquian Indian name "seganku" meaning, appropriately, "one who squirts". They are omnivorous meaning they eat both plant and animal matter (insects, earthworms, grubs, fruit, lichens, mice, eggs, crayfish, frogs, salamanders, etc.) I heard from a local that several neighbors had been having their pet’s food bowls raided by skunks so dog and cat food can also be placed on their menu. They have poor vision but a keen sense of smell and hearing, so I tried to be as quiet as possible as I worked my way closer. I was so caught up in the excitement of my discovery that I wasn’t watching where I stepped (again) and snapped a twig on the ground.


Immediately it spun around and went on the defensive with its tail shooting straight up aiming its “glands” in my direction naturally causing me to freeze. These glands reside beneath its tail and can disperse a noxious oily spray upwards of fifteen feet and has been described as smelling like “rotten eggs, garlic, and burnt rubber”. Charles Darwin even wrote about the skunks “fetid oil” saying that “Whatever is once polluted by it, is for ever useless”. I think about this and realize I’m only about eight feet away- clearly within range of being “skunked”. Skunk smell is one of those odors that once it lays claim to the inner linings of your sinuses it leaves an idelible mark. In other words once you're introduced to this aroma you'll never forget it. Nevertheless I continued taking pictures until my nose started to pick up hints of its funk so much so that my nose began running. At that point I decide to back off and get back to looking for that bird and allow my gamy friend to get back to his rooting.


References:

Darwin, Charles. The Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle- The Journal of Charles Darwin. New York: The Heritage Press, 1957.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk

http://fohn.net/skunk-pictures-facts/

http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/tmot1/mephmeph.htm

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