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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Defiance in black and white

Nov 17, 2010, 6:12PM

If not trigger happy skunks certainly are quick on the draw.

The majority of my countless skunk photos are of peaceful citizens mindlessly ambling about in the darkness while sniffing and scratching for grubs.

Occasionally however they notice the camera trap's lens movement.

Then they raise the white flag of warning.

That's as far as it goes.

It usually takes a clear and present danger to set off a skunk, and as far as I know no skunk has found a camera trap sufficiently threatening to drop the bomb.

Gun fighters shouldn't waste ammo.

I didn't give much thought to the portrait of the defiant Stinkerella below -- the handstand, hind feet ajar, and all that --  I'd seen it before,

Dec 30, 12:30 AM

but then I saw Randon Truth's excellent photo of another hand-standing Stinkerella.

Its warning flag was fully flared. My Stinkerella's tail was as tight as a shaving brush.

The difference made me wonder.

Was it just a chance difference, or is there more to it than that?

Can you predict the spotted skunk's readiness to cut loose by the flare of the hair of its tail?

Does the spotted skunk furl its flag before dropping the bomb?

Why not? Wouldn't pissing your tail be like shooting yourself in the foot?

I decided to ask my colleague Galen Rathbun, who once had a pet spotted skunk about the tail business. 

Here's what he said . . .

"I had a Spilogale and kept it in a large rabbit hutch behind the house.
I could take it out but since it wasn't de-scented I never took it into the house.
My mom was very tolerant of my various and numerous critters, but she wasn't that tolerant.
I was going to College of San Mateo at the time, on the old Coyote Point campus, and on several occasions I put the skunk in the cab of my Chevy pickup for the drive from Woodside to Coyote Point.
It was in its nest box, but was able to run about in the cab while I was in class.
It only happened once.
It let loose in the truck while I was in class.
I don't know why it happened, but suspect some student saw the skunk and harrassed it from outside.
Anyway, I had to drive my pickup with all the windows open for quite a while.
If this had happened in the house, I might have become homeless when such a lifestyle was pretty rare."

So Stinkerella's furled flag of defiance remains a mystery.

And if any of you are wondering why anyone in their right mind would take an intact skunk to school in their pickup truck, well, you just haven't known many zoologists. 


BLD in MT said...

Hilarious and interesting. : )

KB said...

I love those photos! Does anyone know how long a skunk can hold a handstand? I'm thinking that they must have some specialized musculature to do it for long.

I'm also wondering if you would consider doing a post on scent lures. I've spent a lot of time going through your past posts, and have read about the patches, the decoction, etc. However, I'm wondering what methods you use to hold the scent besides patches. Do you simply rub the decoction onto mossy rocks?

I'm also wondering if your bobcats ever responded to the patches. I've experimented with a similar decoction, and every species besides the bobcat seems interested in it. The bobcat just saunters past it, time after time.

Anonymous said...

My sister's MIL (certifiably nuts) once encountered a skunk which had taken up residence in a closet of her air conditioned trailer in Palm Springs. Upon challenge, Emma incensed at this intrusion, hit the skunk with a broom. The inevitable conclusion and screams brought the deputy sheriffs who made a call to my BIL (one of many over the course of her and his lives).