We are big fans of the skunk here at the Wildlife Hotline. They are truly one of our favorite species in our region. We are aware that the public doesn’t quite feel the same as we do. However, the public doesn’t get to see skunks in the same light that we do as rehabbers. We see the babies, and they are adorable. Most of all, they are born with such little ego’s, as though they know, even from birth, that they are skunks and they call the shots. This little attitude, combined with a beautiful fur coat and little button nose, makes them extremely lovable to us, even though they can be stinkers sometimes – quite literally! Which is why February is our most dreaded month of the year. February marks the beginning of the love-is-in-the-air, Pepe LePew-ish, mating season for our stinky friends, and each year it results it astronomical amounts of hit-by-car fatalities. Driving from St. Louis to the Ozarks one can count 20+ dead skunks on the side of the highways, and that’s just the one-way trip. It is a very sad time of year. When we see opossums on the side of the road we are aware that there are some cruel, horrible people out there that will actually go out of their way to hit an opossum or raccoon, and while those people are loathsome, awful people – we can’t do much about it without catching them in the act. With skunks however, we don’t believe that anyone is TRYING to hit a skunk. People are generally too worried about their car getting sprayed and being unbearable to sit in for a month after getting sprayed.
The ways that skunks interact with roadway traffic is quite different from some of the other species as well. The most important thing to know about skunks is that they do not seem to have any natural predators. Some cite great horned owls as a possible predator, but two recent studies (one in Kansas state and one in Oklahoma) has shown that may not be true, with all species avoiding the skunk, including owls and other raptors. This lack of predators must add fuel to the already full-fire ego that the skunk is seemingly born with. They know that they rule the roost, and they seem to know that you’re more scared of them than they are of you. In fact, they rarely show fear at all, at least in any ways that we would recognize as fearful. When a grizzly bear, mountain lion, or bobcat sees a striped skunk in the woods, no matter how hungry they may be, they walk away. The skunk might have to stomp his feet a few times and flick his tail up to threaten the predator with his stink-maker but in the end, skunk wins. Skunk wins against anything and everything in the wild, except cars.
When your world is a carefree, mellow, easy-going place, you tend to stop paying attention to your surroundings so much anymore… Skunks walk through life with their nose to the ground, sniff sniff sniffing their way through the woods, and sometimes, right into the roadway. They don’t tend to look up and see you coming at all. When driving at night, you may notice a flash of eyes off to the left or right, and that might make you press the brake a bit, knowing there is an animal out there that might run out in front of you. Those eyes might belong to a stray cat or dog, a raccoon, deer, or anything else in the woods. The skunk however, has little black eyes that don’t reflect back at us very well. You might see a little flash of red, but it’s hard to catch, and you’ll only see that much when and IF the skunk actually looks up to see you coming.
To a skunk you and your car are just another predator coming along to try your luck. The skunk knows that he always wins in these situations, so he’s not worried. But then the car comes on so fast, and the stomping isn’t working…the car isn’t stopping. So the skunk sprays the car, thinking that will make it stop. Surely it will back down now! But no… it’s too late. The skunk is dead and now you have to ride around with the windows down in winter in order to be able to breathe! There are other times when skunks get hit by cars and they never look up, never see it coming, so they do not spray at all. When you see a skunk on the side of the road, but don’t smell it, at least he didn’t see it coming. It’s a little bit of an upside to a tragic event. If the impact of the car actually ruptures the anal sack, which can happen but isn’t common, it will still smell as though the skunk sprayed, even if he/she didn’t see the car coming, but more often than not what you are smelling is the skunk’s ego, tenacity, and his spirit of never backing down.
Please be careful out there this month, into March. The skunks are out there, and it’s very difficult to get the smell off of and out of your vehicle. Let’s all try to give wildlife a break this month.
Safe Driving Tips from the Humane Society of the United States
- Slow down. Many animals needlessly become victims simply because people drive too fast to avoid hitting them. Speed poses a risk to human safety as well.
- Watch for wildlife in and near the road at dawn, dusk, and in the first few hours after darkness.
- Be cautious on two-lane roads bordered by woods or fields, or where streams cross under roads. Most animal/vehicle collisions occur on these roads. Slow down to 45 mph or less.
- Even on a limited access highway, watch for wildlife.
- Scan the road as you drive, watching the edges for wildlife about to cross. This will also make you more aware of other hazards such as bicyclists, children at play, and slowly moving vehicles.
- Don’t throw trash out car windows. Discarded food pollutes the environment and creates a hazard by attracting wildlife to the roads.
- If you see an animal crossing the road, slow down. Where there is one animal, there are probably others—young animals following their mother or male animals pursuing a female.
- Use your high beams whenever possible.
- Lower your dashboard lights slightly. You’ll be more likely to see your headlights reflected in the eyes of animals in time to brake.
For more information about skunks and other native wildlife, please feel free to call and speak with one of our wildlife specialists 24/7 @ (636) 492-1610 or 1-800-482-7950. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on Facebook under “Wildlife Hotline” or Twitter under “WildlifeHotline” no spaces.