[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy
Today in
S.C.V. History
March 17
1927 - Newhall telephone exchange, est. 1900, now serves 100 phones [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Dec 5, 2013

evelynevandersande_mug You smell them more often than you see them.

My daughter lived in San Pedro, and a long, narrow canyon crossed the neighborhood. It was full of vegetation, bamboo and green leaves, and a few skunks were living in this perfect hiding place.

They would appear at night when we were taking the dog for a walk. They were large animals, their coats shining under the street lights, and we would freeze when we spotted one. Sometimes we saw a mom with little ones in tow, or a large and imposing male that you would admire and fear from a respectful distance.

We were sleeping in the garage that was transformed into a guest room, so we were in close contact with the outdoors. I remember one morning we woke up with tears in our eyes from the overpowering smell at the door; a skunk must have been spraying to save itself from a tight situation.

skunk120513The canyon ran parallel to her backyard, and creatures of the night could be heard rattling in the dark. Her dog, of course, had to investigate and paid the price by being sprayed one night. It took a month of many regular shampoos of several brands to make the smell bearable. Our daughter is a veterinarian, so she has access to the best research on the topic, but the reality is that skunk spray is that potent.

When you think about skunks, you think about the smell, and certainly they use that as their main weapon. They have two glands on each side of the anus that can spray, with good accuracy, a strong and offensive stream as far as 10 feet. The spray is irritating and can even cause temporary blindness, so it is highly effective. The smell is so strong that it can be detected up to a mile away.

However, skunks use the weapon only as a last resort. Their first warning is their color. Strong black and white is called an aposematic coloration. This is a warning coloration that means danger to other predators, so they keep away.

The striped skunk is about the size of an adult cat, mostly black with two large, white bands on the back and white on top of the head.

If color isn’t enough, they will show you clearly that the situation is unacceptable to them with other warning signs. First there will be a lot of hissing, foot stamping, and the tail will go up as a clear threat. If those messages are not clear enough, they will spray, and that will be the end of it. Even bears will run away.

Most predators leave the skunk alone, except dogs, whose attack fails after they are sprayed.

The only predator they really have is the great horned owl, which does not have a sense of smell and can kill a skunk with its powerful talons.

Skunks are careful not to spray too often. It takes 10 days to produce a supply of the spray, and they carry just enough of the liquid to make five sprays. So it is used only as an emergency weapon.

Skunks have a good sense of smell and hearing, but their vision is poor.  They cannot see farther than 10 feet. That is why they are often killed by cars while crossing the road. Their life span in the wild can be seven years, and 10 years in captivity.

skunk2The word “squunch” first appeared in New England in 1630. It came from an Algonquin word meaning “a urinating fox.” Another Latin name from this period can be translated as “Stinking spotted weasel.” Not very flattering, but fairly accurate.

Skunks are crepuscular, which means they look for food at dawn and dusk. They are omnivorous, eating many plants, fruits and small animals including larvae, earthworms, small rodents and lizards.

In the city, they will raid your garbage can and animal food left outdoors. Like raccoons, they will dig in your lawn to find grubs and worms.

Strangely enough, they are one of the few predators of honeybees, because their thick coat protects them from the stings, and they teach their pups how to approach the beehives.

Skunks mate in the spring. They are lolygynous.  That means the male can fertilize many females, but the female needs only one male to do the job and will fight any male trying to mount her after that.

The female has four to seven kits.  They are blind and deaf when they are born, but by Day 8, the young already have the musky smell. Their eyes open after three weeks and they are weaned after two months, but they stay for about one year with their mom, who protects and raises them. The male is not involved with the mother or the kits.

Skunks den in burrows but do not like digging, so they often use burrows made by ground squirrels, foxes or coyotes. They enlarge and change the den. They can also den in brush piles, hollow logs or under decks, porches or buildings.

They do not really hibernate in the winter but can enter a dormant phase in cold weather. A few females may share a den during that time, but males always stay alone in their own den.

skunk4In the United States, pet skunks are allowed in some states, but not California. They are allowed in Germany, Netherlands, Italy and the UK but remain a rare pet because of the complexity of their care and the restrictive laws.

In the 1950s, their pelts were sold to the fur industry and were called “marten fur.” Their coats were sold under the nebulous name of “American sable” or “Alaskan sable.” When the courts ruled that the name “skunk” should be used, the skunk fur market collapsed.

We had a skunk at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center named Ferguson. It was brought to us by a family with young children who moved from Texas where such a pet is allowed. Ferguson was born in a pet shop, was never de-scented, but was still young. The children used to play with it without fear, and it had never sprayed.

The docents were a bit more intimidated, and we knew the little guy was growing up and would start spraying when mature. Finding a veterinarian in Palmdale who would agree to de-scent the skunk was not so easy.

Finally, one vet did us a favor. The surgery was done at lunch time when the office was deserted and the scented glands were carried away from the premises … which was done in a plastic bag in the purse of one of the ladies who brought Ferguson to the vet. Another one of those interesting events at Placerita.

Skunks are feared animals with good reason. Their smell is more than a nuisance, but they are also carriers of rabies. Remember, you will smell one before you see one, so bring your dog indoors when you do catch that scent in the air.

We all can cohabite pleasantly enough with some precautions. Give them a chance.



Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.



Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

1 Comment

  1. Melanie Boothby says:

    De-skunking recipe. Always worked on my forever-sprayed Jack Russell. 1 quart hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid soap. Mix and put it on immediately and protect the eyes. It always works with one wash.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Friday, Mar 16, 2018
Thursday, Mar 8, 2018
A wildfire stripped the banks of Placerita Creek of its thick, lush blanket of green – exposing thousands of shoots of the evil tamarisk.
Friday, Mar 2, 2018
In her March 2018 message, Mayor Laurene Weste outlines why Santa Clarita is a tech-savvy "smart city" and previews coming upgrades in street lighting, recycling stations and the local fiber-optic network.
Thursday, Feb 15, 2018
There was broad public support for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which struck a careful balance between lands available for large-scale renewable energy development and the environment. Now the federal government is rethinking it - putting the important and much-needed protections at risk.
Tuesday, Feb 13, 2018
You can prevent vision loss by finding and treating problems early. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma
Wednesday, Feb 7, 2018
Sierra Club Angeles Chapter SCV Group Chair Sandra Cattell urges Santa Clarita Valley residents to contact their congressional representatives to push legislation to kill the Cemex mining project in Soledad Canyon.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1927 - Newhall telephone exchange, est. 1900, now serves 100 phones [story]
The 2018 SXSW Film Festival, which runs from March 9 to 18, announced its Jury and Special Award winners on Tuesday with CalArts alumni taking home some of the top prizes.
CalArtians Earn Juried Prizes at 2018 SXSW Film Festival
Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club "Youth of the Year" Lluvia Partida was among the young people vying for regional "Youth of the Year" honors at the annual County Alliance award ceremony Tuesday night.
County Boys and Girls Club Alliance Names 2 ‘Youth of the Year’ Honorees
Newhall School District administrators will host an information/enrollment meeting for families that may be affected by the possible closure of the Einstein Academy at Stevenson Ranch Elementary School on Wednesday, March 21, starting at 6:30 p.m.
March 21: Newhall School District Info Session for Einstein Families
The SCV Chamber of Commerce-sponsored NextSCV group for young business professionals ages 21-40 will tour Scorpion's new Valencia headquarters on Wednesday, March 28 starting at 5:30 p.m.
March 28: Young SCV Professionals to Tour Scorpion HQ
The Bureau of Land Management has made available for public review a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and draft Land Use Plan Amendment that aim to manage dispersed recreation visitation over an extensive area in the Mojave Desert.
BLM Issues EIR for Mohave Desert Use, Seeks Public Comment
The TMU Mustangs men's basketball team lost to Peru State College 106-104 in overtime at the NAIA Division 1 National Championship tournament opener in Kansas City Wednesday night.
TMU Men’s Hoops Team Upset by Peru State in First Round
The Master's University doubled up the University of Antelope Valley 8-4 on a cloudy and cold Wednesday afternoon in Placerita Canyon.
Mustangs Stop UAV Pioneers in Their Tracks 8-4
After standing toe-to-toe with the perennial powerhouse Freed Hardeman Lions, the Mustangs didn't have enough left in the fourth quarter and fell 71-51 in the NAIA Women's National Tournament Wednesday.
Mustangs Fall to Freed Hardeman at Nationals
College of the Canyons starter Joy Veloz struck out nine batters and the Cougars pounded out 10 hits to defeat conference rival Antelope Valley College 7-2 at Whitten Field on Thursday.
COC Softball Team Claims 7-2 Victory Over Antelope Valley
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has implemented a one-year pilot program to assist Metro-certified Small Business Enterprise, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise firms secure sufficient bonding to work on Metro construction projects.
LA Metro Launches Program for Small, Disadvantaged, Veteran-Owned Firms
The Golden Oak Adult School will host its second annual Open House at the school on Tuesday, March 27 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
March 27: Golden Oak Adult School 2nd Annual Open House
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $2.7 million payment to the family of a man fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Clarita on January 14, 2016.
Supes Settle Suit for Wrongful Death in Santa Clarita for $2.7 Million
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, March 20, starting at 9:30 a.m.
March 20: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Local developer Pardee Homes will host a grand opening paw-ty for the new Dogwood Park dog park in the Aliento neighborhood of Canyon Country on Saturday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
March 17: Dogwood Park Grand Opening Paw-ty in Canyon Country
The nonprofit Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation will host a "Wild for Animals" benefit at Centre Pointe Plaza in Santa Clarita to raise funds for the Castaic Animal Care Center on Saturday, May 19 starting at 6 p.m.
May 19: ‘Wild for Animals’ Benefit for Castaic Shelter in Centre Pointe
2003 - Life-size sculpture honoring heroes of St. Francis Dam disaster unveiled in Santa Paula [video]
Campus Compact — a Boston based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education — has announced the 268 students who will make up the 2018 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows. Among them is California State University, Northridge graduate student Lilia Gonzalez.
CSUN Grad Student Among 268 Awarded with Newman Civic Fellows
Academy Award-nominee, Angela Bassett will join Kathleen Battle as a guest narrator in Battle’s program Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey accompanied by pianist Joel Martin and the LA-based choir, The Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) on Thursday, March 29 at 8:00pm.
March 29: Angela Bassett Joins Kathleen Battle at The Soraya
The next Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting will be held Wednesday, March 21, from 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge Family Center Banquet Room, located at 18000 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country, 91351.
March 21: Canyon Country Advisory Committee Meeting
There are a few seats left in ARTree's Junior Arts Sampler (ages 5 - 7) and our Arts Sampler (ages 8 - 12) classes which start next week.
Seats Still Available for ARTree’s Arts Sampler
Confronted with a wide range of complex challenges to enrolling residents in need of food assistance in the CalFresh Program, the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) has launched a comprehensive community outreach and education campaign to address the increasing threat of food insecurity in the most populated and culturally-diverse county in the nation.
CalFresh Launches Community Outreach to Reduce Food Insecurity
After clawing its way back to within a pair a runs, College of the Canyons couldn't get any closer, instead dropping a 17-9 decision to conference rival Citrus College at Cougar Field on Wednesday.
Canyons’ 9 Runs Not Enough to Hold Off Citrus College
Thanks to Senate Bill 85 the California State University (CSU) announced the distribution of more than $2 million across its 23 universities to support student success and the CSU Basic Needs Initiative.
CSU to Distribute $2.5 Million in Effort to Fight Student Hunger
The Santa Clarita City Council recognized the Salvation Army’s Santa Clarita Valley Corps at the Council’s meeting Tuesday night.
Salvation Army’s SCV Corps Lauded by City Council
The Santa Clarita City Council invites the public to attend a demolition event at the site of the future Canyon Country Community Center, located on the corner of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway, on Tuesday, March 20 at 10:30 a.m.
March 20: Demolition Event at New Canyon Country Community Center Site
Washington, DC - On Thursday, Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) introduced H.R. 5307, The School Training, Equipment, and Protection (STEP) Act.
Knight Legislation to Implement Specific School Safety Measures
Recognizing California State University, Northridge’s strong commitment to regional economic development, CSUN has been named an Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) University by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).
CSUN Recognized as Innovation, Economic Prosperity University
Max Maitland hit a tie-breaking, two-run homer and the bullpen combined for over five innings of one-run ball as The Master's University doubled up the University of Antelope Valley 8-4 on a cloudy and cold Wednesday afternoon in Placerita Canyon.
Mustangs Improve to 17-10 with Win Against Antelope Valley
MORENO VALLEY, Calif. - Effective immediately, all Bureau of Land Management-managed public lands within the California Desert District shall be under Stage I restrictions and year-round fire restrictions. Recreational shooting restrictions applicable to the California Desert District, issued on May 26, 2017, have been terminated as of March 13, 2018.
Bureau of Land Management Now Under Year-Round Fire Restrictions
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Before Wednesday night's NAIA Division 1 National Championship tournament opener, Master's assistant coach Thomas Lowery and senior Lawrence Russell came to an understanding.
No. 1 Mustangs Knocked Out in First Round of NAIA Tourney
AlphaKidz International S.M.A.R.T. Academy is conducting a shoe drive fundraiser on March 19 to raise funds for their new school building.
March 19: AlphaKidz International Shoe Drive Fundraiser
The Santa Clarita community will once again show their support for a great non-profit, WiSH Education Foundation while sampling 44 chilis on Tuesday, March 20.
Tickets Still Available for 6th Annual Charity Chili Cook-Off
Princess Cruises announced a new culinary shore excursion program in collaboration with the number one food lifestyle brand, Bon Appétit, offering guests the opportunity to indulge in culinary experiences inspired by their surroundings while cruising to destinations around the globe.
Princess Cruises Partners With Bon Appétit
Valencia High School’s Jazz Choir Two N’ Four is ranked the best in the country.
Valencia High Choir Takes 1st Place in Monterey; Bests Schools Nationwide