Skunks are adored by many children because of their distinctive look and sometimes because of their “special power”. They are wild animals that do not mind living in human settlements, so exploring this species, children can become more aware of how we, humans, interact with nature, how we might affect it, and how it can affect us. Learning about skunks will give children not only food for thought but also building material for exciting play scenarios.
Skunks are curious, friendly and playful animals. They are intelligent, brave and stubborn. Some people have pet skunks at their homes and adore them as they are cuddly and entertaining, but keeping a skunk as a pet can be a challenge. Adopting a wild skunk, though, is not a good idea, and it might actually be illegal.
Although most people and animals would stay away from skunks for fear of being sprayed with the special stinky weapon, the truth is skunks are not aggressive. They spray only when they feel threatened, and they do not spray before giving you clear signs and enough time to leave them alone.
WHAT SKUNKS EAT
Many children are interested in what animals eat, so that they can “feed” their toy animals, so let them know that skunks are omnivorous, i.e. they eat a variety of foods, both of plant and animal origin, and their diet changes with the seasons. Learning about the eating habits of wild animals could easily translate into learning about seasons, food webs and ecology. This will help children understand the complexity of nature and human impact on the environment.
Here is a list of foods:
Animal food: insects, larvae, earthworms, grubs, snails, slugs, rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles, baby turtles, the chicks of ground-nesting birds, eggs.
Plant food: berries, roots, leaves, grasses, fungi and nuts
Sometimes they act as scavengers, that is they eat dead organisms killed by other animals. They would also eat pet food and left-over food from your garbage.
If you do not want to attract skunks to your property, you have to close your garbage containers tightly and not leave pet food outdoors. If you feed your pets in the yard, make sure you do this during the day, when skunks are asleep, and then remove the leftover food.
Even if you do not mind wild animals in your yard, you better not feed them because they lose their natural fear of humans and at some point might become aggressive if they do not get what they expect you to provide. By leaving food outside, you attract all kinds of animals, not just the ones you hope to attract. Some of these animals might carry diseases which are a threat to your and your pets’ health and safety. Besides, in some countries feeding wild animals intentionally is illegal.
If skunks live nearby and are not fed, their natural eating habits might actually make them quite useful as they are excellent mouse and mole hunters. They will also eat the grubs, snails and slugs and help you save your lawn and garden. You should make sure you protect your chicken coop, though.
WHO EATS SKUNKS
Most predators have learned to avoid skunks for fear of being sprayed. As skunks have a distinct and easy to see pattern, they would scare away predators only through their looks. If this is not enough, they will hiss, stamp their feet, charge forward, arch their tails over their backs or show their stinky “weapons” and look over their shoulders to warn the enemy.
Skunks are sometimes eaten by eagles, crows, vultures, coyotes, foxes, dogs, bobcats, mountain lions, American badgers, and even humans. However, although skunks are small and short-legged, which makes them easy prey, they have only one regular predator – the great horned owl – because the owl has a poor sense of smell and does not care about being sprayed and because it can descend quite swiftly and quietly upon its prey.
If you do not want to be noticed by a skunk, learn from the owl – be quiet. Skunks have very poor eyesight, so you will most likely go unnoticed.
Skunks’ deadliest enemies are automobiles – they are fast and cannot see the warnings a skunk gives while crossing the road.
The other just as deadly enemies are viruses, especially the rabies virus. In some places people try to protect them by impregnating baits with oral vaccine. If you live in an area inhabited by skunks, it is a good idea to vaccinate your pets.
HOW TO GET RID OF SKUNKS, HAVE THEM AS NEIGHBOURS OR SAVE SKUNKS IN TROUBLE
There is a lot of information online about getting rid of skunks in safe and humane ways, living near skunks, saving skunks. Here are two downloadable brochures, full of useful information and tips – 1 and 2. Your children would be fascinated by the scenarios described in these, and they would like to incorporate them in their play. Of course, we would not recommend reading directly from the brochures to your children – pick whatever you find appropriate and present it in a suitable way.
WHERE THEY MAKE THEIR HOMES
The striped skunks live in a variety of habitats – fields, woodlands, forest edges, grasslands, prairies, deserts, suburban and urban locations. They are not choosy, but generally they live within two miles of water.
Skunks sleep during the day and become active in the evening, so they need dens to spend their days. When it is warm, some might bed in vegetation, but during the colder months all would need dens. They do not go into deep uninterrupted sleep throughout winter, but nevertheless, they are dormant for long periods of time. Female skunks sometimes den together to keep themselves warm, so a group of skunks is called a huddle. In order to survive the winter, they should have accumulated enough fat.
Skunks prefer to occupy dens made by other animals rather than dig their own. They take abandoned burrows dug by ground squirrels, foxes or coyotes. If it is necessary, they enlarge them. They furnish them with beds made of grass and leaves. Their babies will be born in these homes and will not go outside until they have grown up enough to be able to go for walks and training sessions with their moms.
If skunks do not find nice burrows, they will use brush piles, hollow logs, and culverts. Only if they cannot find any suitable place, they will dig their own den.
In urban and suburban areas skunks den in abandoned buildings, under decks, porches, or beneath buildings, in cellars, under stumps, rock piles, concrete slabs, in rock crevices, culverts, drain pipes and fallen hollow trees.
Children will love to build dens for their toy skunks, and they could use stacking blocks or any materials they find suitable. In our article on play with wooden toy animals, we have mentioned some materials that make a good match to wooden animals.
SKUNKS IN LEGENDS
Skunks are featured in Native American folklore – sometimes in the role of monsters, and sometimes admired for their stalwart self-defence. Some of them are taken as clan animals by some cultures. It is easy to use a search engine to find links to Native American legends about skunks.
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OUR TOY SKUNKS
You can find photos and information about size and safety in our shop.