Ohio’s first signs of spring? The skunks are out!

Forget Punxsutawney Phil and Buckeye Chuck. Ohio’s true
harbinger of spring is the skunk.

These first warm days, skunks are busy creatures. Their distinctive
scent wafts in nightly breezes and evidence of their disregard of
pedestrian traffic laws litter the roadsides.

The Ohio DNR’s Suzie Prange, a biologist who specializes in
furbearers, said skunks are out and about as temperatures rise for
two reasons: romance and a good meal.

February and March are the breeding season for Ohio’s striped
skunks. Males pursue females and the results are generally litters
of four “kits” born in May and June.

While skunks themselves have no trouble differentiating between
their sexes, humans often do. Prange said males skunks and bigger
than females. Otherwise, they mostly look alike. Both sexes spray
that familiar musk when startled or frightened.

The distinctive aroma follows the animals wherever they go. As a
result, it’s easy to determine when one is lurking in the
neighborhood.

“It’s pretty pungent,” Prange admitted.

Smells aside, Prange finds skunks “pretty interesting critters”
that adapt well to their surroundings.

They are omnivores, meaning they eat virtually anything available.
And, they are especially hungry in the early spring. There’s a
reason for the ravenous appetites.

While skunks don’t actually hibernate, they do “den up” in cold
weather, living off body fat stored during fall feasting. The
average striped skunk comes out of its winter home lean and
hungry.

“They lose a lot of weight,” Prange noted.

That weight loss takes a toll on the skunk population. Only Ohio’s
opossums fare worse when it comes to winter mortality, she
added.

Skunks are also opportunists, moving into the abandoned dens of
other animals to snooze or raise young. The undersides of backyard
decks are a favorite hideout.

Long-term population studies are evidence of their adaptability.
The Ohio DNR now estimates there are more striped skunks in the
state than in pioneer times.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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