Living Sanibel: The Striped Skunk
Known for its stinking spray, the striped skunk is a relatively uncommon sighting in Florida, even as road kill. The active ingredient in its spray is a chemical called butyl mercaptan, and can be easily detected by humans and other animals from as far away as a mile. If you happen to get skunk spray on your clothing, the best method for removing the odor is by burying the clothing for a week, then washing it in tomato juice or ammonia, then, as a final step, taking it out to the garbage can and throwing it away. Removing the spray from your person is equally as disconcerting. (Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda can be used to help eliminate the smell.)
The skunk is a known vector of rabies, and any skunk seen during daytime hours should be avoided because it is likely sick. The striped skunk is predominantly crepuscular or nocturnal in foraging habits, coming out at dusk and returning to its den as dawn approaches. It eats just about anything it can find, from carrion to garbage, insects to mice. Because of its odiferous spray, its only consistent predation is by two common owls in Florida, the great horned and the barred owl, neither of which appears to be affected by the skunk’s odor.
In Florida the striped skunk does not go dormant, as it does in the more northern reaches of its range, all the way into Canada. It feeds heavily in the summer and fall to build up enough stored fat to survive the long northern winter. It has one litter a year, producing between four and six young with each litter.
With its scent glands removed, a skunk can actually be kept as a pet, though because of its susceptibility to the rabies virus, it is not generally regarded as a preferred wild pet. It can also deliver a nasty bite, though if reared properly it is not prone to biting its owner. Skunk pelts were once highly desired, marketed creatively as ?laskan sable. Today, however, wild skunk trapping is mostly a thing of the past.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast-A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.