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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 23, 2002 - Issue 55


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How Skunk Got His Scent

SkunkThe skunk was once a larger animal than he is now - he was as large as a hill. But he became smaller and smaller and this caused him to worry.

"If I grow smaller and smaller," he said, "I will lose my strength. Then how can I hunt, and kill my game, and make my living?"

And so he thought and thought.

"I know," he said. "I will make a strong hunting medicine which will give me skill even when I am not so large as now."

Little SkunkHe hunted and hunted to find all the plants as he could grasp in his hand, he took them home. He ground them up very, very fine, like a powder. Then, when this medicine was all prepared, he placed it in a little pouch that he carried with him wherever he went.

Then he said, "I will test my medicine against the biggest, strongest thing I can find."

He looked around, and there he saw a large oak tree; nothing could be bigger or stronger than this tree, and decided to test his medicine against it.

SkunkHe took some powder out of his pouch - only a pinch of the powder was needed - and put it in some water, and drank it. Then, to make still more powerful medicine, he sang, "Who is going out hunting, for I go out to hunt?"

Then the skunk shot at the oak tree - not with an arrow, but with this medicine, a foul-smelling liquid - and the tree shrank away and died, and looked as if it were burned. Nothing was left but a pile of ashes.

The hunting medicine made by that skunk was the same as that the skunk carries today.

Print and Color Your Own Skunk

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Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Striped SkunkThis short-legged, housecat-sized mammal is black with a narrow white stripe running up the middle of the forehead and a broad white area on the nape of the neck that usually divides into a V at about the shoulders. The resulting two white stripes may continue to the base of the bushy tail. The white stripes show considerable variation. In some animals, they are broad and well defined; in others, they are absent. The striped skunk has a relatively small head with short-rounded ears, small eyes, and a pointed muzzle. Two large musk glands are located at the base of the tail.

The striped skunk is only found in North America. Its range runs from central Canada to northern Mexico.

Female striped skunks normally produce a single annual litter of 4 to 7 (range 3-10) young in the spring following a gestation of 59 to 77 days. The young are born in a nest of dry leaves within the den. Newborn young have their eyes and ears closed, have well- developed claws, and have a fine covering of hair in which the adult pattern is evident. The eyes open at 22 to 35 days, while the ears open between 24 and 27 days. Young skunks nurse for 6 to 7 weeks, after which they emerge from the den and begin following their mother on her nightly foraging trips. The young usually remain with the mother until late summer when they disperse. Young skunks begin breeding at one year of age.

Striped Skunk and babiesLongevity
In the wild, striped skunks may live for five to six years.

Terrestrial Ecology
Striped skunks are primarily solitary, nocturnal mammals. They spend the day in underground burrows, beneath abandoned buildings, in hollow logs, or in wood piles. Although active individuals have been observed during every month, they may become dormant for prolonged periods during severe winter weather. Unlike the eastern spotted skunk, they are not good climbers.

Striped skunks are omnivorous and feed primarily on small rodents, eggs, insects and their larvae, berries, and carrion. Birds and reptiles may be taken occasionally.

Predators and Defense
Striped Skunk footprintsBecause of its well-known and effective defense mechanism, the striped skunk is not molested by many animals. The Great Horned Owl is its major predator, but the Striped Skunk is also preyed upon by hawks, Coyotes, foxes, and Bobcats.

With their short, stubby legs, it isn't easy for a skunk to outrun a predator. So they have adapted a unique defense system. When a skunk is threatened, it will first try to run. If that doesn't work, it will try to frighten a predator by arching its back, raising its tail and turning its back on the predator. It may also stomp its feet. If this doesn't work, as a last resort, the skunk will spray the animal with a strong-smelling fluid. The fluid not only really stinks, it can also sting the eyes of the predator, giving the skunk time to get away. A skunk can spray as far as twelve feet!

Being sprayed by a skunk is undeniably unpleasant; it has been known to cause nausea. However, the yellowish, oily liquid sprayed when the skunk feels threatened can do no lasting or serious harm. Skunks can hit a target with the liquid from up to 15 feet away. The best thing to do when your cat or dog has ended up on the wrong side of a skunk is to wash it in tomato juice - for reasons unknown, this neutralizes and removes the odor.

* Skunks and other carrion feeders can contract rabies from feeding on the carrion of an infected animal. Because rabies is a life-threatening disease in humans, one should avoid contact with skunks and areas where skunks have been feeding, such as garbage cans. To reduce the risk of rabies, make sure that your garbage is not accessible to animals.

Striped Skunk$narrative.html


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