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The Skunk


This disgusting animal has won the unenviable but deserving reputation

of being the most foul-smelling creature on the face of the globe.

He belongs to the weasel tribe, and all these animals are noted

for certain odors which they possess, but the skunk is pre-eminent

in the utter noisomeness of the horrid effluvium which it exhales.

This scent proceeds from a liquid secretion which collects in a

gland be
eath the insertion of the tail, and the animal has the

power to eject or retain it at will.

It must have been given to the creature as a means of defence,

for there seems to be no animal that can withstand the influence

of its fetid stench. Dogs are trained to hunt the animal, but until

they have learned from experience the right method of attacking the

fetid game, and have discovered the whereabouts of the animal's

magazine of ammunition, they are of little use to the hunter, and

are only too glad to plunge into some neighboring brook, or roll

in some near earth, in hopes of ridding themselves of the stench

which almost distracts them. The offensive propensities of the

skunk are only exercised when the animal is alarmed or frightened.

There are generally certain premonitory symptoms of attack which

the creature usually exhibits, and it is well to retire from his

shooting range as soon as they are observed.

When the animal is ready to discharge his battery, he suddenly

elevates his large bushy tail, over his body, and turns his back

on his enemy. The result of the discharge fills the air for a great

distance around, and man and beast fly from the neighborhood of

the indescribable and fetid effluvium, which fairly makes one's

nostrils ache.

A single drop of this disgusting secretion on the clothes is enough

to scent the whole garment, and it is almost impossible to rid

the tainted fabric from the odor.

It is extremely acrid in quality, and if a very small quantity

fall upon the eyes, it is very apt to produce permanent blindness.

Dogs, in their first experiences with the skunk, are frequently

thus blinded, and there are well authenticated instances of human

beings who have been deprived of their sight through their close

proximity to an infuriated skunk.

The writer, in his extreme youth, learned, through dear experience,

the putrid qualities of this noisome quadruped. It was on one bright

Sunday, in New England, and he was out in his Sunday clothing,

gathering wild strawberries. He suddenly discovered a pretty little

playful animal with bushy tail, romping in the grass near him.

The creature was seemingly gentle, and showed no inclination to

run away, and the pet-loving nature of the writer prompted an

irresistible desire to capture so pretty a creature. Encouraged

by its gentle manner, he eagerly ran towards the tempting prize,

and grasping it by the bushy tail, which the animal had raised

perpendicularly, as if for a handle, the pretty creature was locked

in the affectionate embrace of its youthful admirer. But alas! he

soon repented his rashness, and the treacherous pet was quickly

flung away leaving its victim in such a foul state of overwhelming

astonishment as can be more easily imagined than described.

Every article of clothing worn on that eventful Sunday had to be

buried, and it took weeks of Sundays before the odor could be thoroughly

eradicated from the hair and skin of the individual who wore those

Sunday garments. After this adventure, the youth became more cautious

with respect to pretty little playful animals, with black and white

fur and bushy tails.

There is hardly a farmer in the country but what has had some amusing

or serious experience with the skunk, and almost every trapper

has, at one time or another, served as a target for his shooting

propensities. Natural histories are replete with anecdotes of which

this animal is the mephitic hero, and volumes might be filled to

the glory of his strong-smelling qualities.

Perhaps it is through the prejudice of the writer that he cannot

enthusiastically recommend the skunk as a domestic pet; but it

is nevertheless asserted, on good authority, that these animals,

when reared from the young, become very interesting and playful

in the household, and completely shut down on their objectionable


Our illustration gives a very good idea of the animal, and it is

so unlike any other creature that a further description will not

be necessary. The prevailing colors are white and black; but these

vary much in proportion, the animal sometimes being almost totally

white, or altogether black. The fur is long, and comparatively coarse,

being intermixed with long, glossy hairs, and is most valuable in

the black animal. The body of the creature is about a foot and a

half in length, exclusive of the tail, which adds about fourteen

inches more.

The skunk is generally nocturnal in its habits, secreting itself

during the day in hollow trees, or crevices in rocks, or wood-piles.

At night it ventures forth in quest of its food, which consists

chiefly of grasshoppers, worms and other insects, wild fruit and

such small animals in the shape of frogs, mice and birds as it can

capture. The poultry yard often offers an irresistible temptation,

and both fowls and eggs often serve to appease his appetite.

The skunk is common throughout the greater part of North America,

and in many localities the numbers increase very

rapidly unless checked. The young are brought forth in burrows

or holes in rocks during April or May, and are from six to nine

in number.

Skunk fur does not sound well when thought of in connection with

a set of fashionable furs; and for this reason the pelt of this

animal is dignified by the name of Alaska sable by all dealers in

the article. When known by this fancy title it suddenly becomes a

very popular addition to fashion's winter wardrobe, and is one of

the leading furs which are exported to meet the demand of foreign

countries. Foul as the animal is, it seldom soils its own fur with

its offensive fluid; and when carefully skinned the fur is as saleable

as that of any other animal.

The Skunk is trapped in a variety of ways; and as the animal is

not cunning, no great skill is required. The steel trap is most

commonly used, as other wooden varieties, box traps or dead-falls,

for instance, are apt to absorb and retain the stench of the animal.

In using the steel trap the size No. 2 should be taken. It may be

set at the entrance to their burrows or in their feeding grounds.

It should be covered with loose earth or chaff, or some other light

substance, and baited with small bits of meat, dead mice, or eggs

placed around it. The enclosure illustrated on page 143 also answers

well, and in all cases the spring pole, page 144, should be used.

The dead-fall, page 107, is often employed, and the twitch-up, page

43, is a particularly effective contrivance for their capture, often

preventing the evil consequences of the odor by causing instant

dislocation of the neck, and this without injuring the fur. A stroke

upon the backbone near the tail, by producing paralysis of the

parts, also prevents the animal from using his offensive powers,

and a dead-fall so constructed as to fall upon the animal at this

part will accomplish the same effect. To manage this it is only

necessary to place the bait far back in the enclosure, so that

the skunk on reaching it will bring the rear portion of his body

beneath the suspended log. The scent of the skunk is as we have

said, almost ineradicable, but we would recommend chloride of lime

as the most effectual antidote.

It is also said by some trappers that the odor may be dissipated

by packing the garment in fresh hemlock boughs, letting it thus

remain for a couple of days. This is certainly a valuable hint

if true, and is well worth remembering.

For skinning the skunk, see Beaver, Otter and Fox.