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

Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 16
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [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...
Sunday, Dec 10, 2017
Derelict since the 1994 earthquake, the Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall was the first productive oil refinery in the American West and is believed to be the oldest existing refinery in the world today. Unfunded restoration plans have come and gone. Now that the surrounding property is under development, will the promises be kept?
Friday, Dec 8, 2017
A National Memorial designation for St. Francis Dam will honor those who lost their lives in the nation’s worst engineering disaster and the role it played in ushering in a new era of oversight for dam construction.
Thursday, Dec 7, 2017
Eliminating net neutrality would allow Internet service providers such as Verizon, Comcast, Spectrum and AT&T to create a “slow lane” and a “fast lane” on the Internet, prioritizing certain companies over others and dictating what websites you’re able to visit and at what speed, or even blocking you entirely from visiting certain websites of your choice.
Monday, Dec 4, 2017
In his monthly message for December 2017, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin encourages residents to shop and party locally during the holidays to keep the cash in our community.
Friday, Dec 1, 2017
The big day is almost upon us and a year of celebrations is wrapping up. On December 15, 2017 our city will officially be 30 years old.
Thursday, Nov 30, 2017
Create and decorate your own holiday wreaths, centerpieces, candles and ornaments using a large assortment of fresh-cut greenery, pine cones and other beautiful natural treasures this weekend at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]
The National Weather Service has called a Fire Weather Watch for this weekend for Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains and valleys including the Santa Clarita Valley due to gusty northeast wind and low relative humidity.
Weekend Fire Weather Watch Called for SCV
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies arrested a 21-year-old man who had an outstanding warrant and was allegedly in possession of cocaine in Canyon Country early Thursday.
Bicyclist Arrested for Warrant, Cocaine in Canyon Country
Valencia-based Princess Cruises, voted the #1 international cruise line in Japan, announced its 2019 program featuring Japanese-built Diamond Princess returning for her sixth season, sailing roundtrip from Tokyo (Yokohama) and Kobe.
Princess Cruises Unveils 2019 Japan Cruise Program
Valencia-based Princess Cruises released its 2019 Canada and New England cruise schedule, featuring Regal Princess and Caribbean Princess on the line’s largest fall deployment and the opportunity to visit Greenland roundtrip from New York
Princess Cruises Sets Fall 2019 Cruises to Canada, New England
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department looks back at five years of work by its Domestic Highway Enforcement Team, which has disrupted the operations of the drug cartels by confiscating millions of dollars in illegal drugs and drug money.
Elite LASD Drug Enforcement Team Disrupts Cartel Operations
College of the Canyons quarterback Andrew Brito, wide receiver Desean Holmes and linebacker KJ Latu have been named to the 2017 Region III All-California Community College Football Team.
Brito, Holmes, Latu Represent Cougars on All-State Team
Tickets and sponsorships are now available for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's 2018 awards ceremony and installation of new officers at Tournament Players Club in Valencia on Friday night, January 26.
Jan. 26: SCV Chamber of Commerce 2018 Awards, Installation Gala
Sponsorships are now open for the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation's 2018 Economic Outlook Conference, set for Thursday, March 8, 2018 at a location to be announced shortly.
SCV 2018 Economic Outlook Conference Tickets, Sponsorships Open
SetPoint Medical, a Valencia-based biomedical company developing therapy for chronic inflammatory diseases, has received approval from the FDA to initiate a pilot trial in the U.S. for patients with drug-refractory rheumatoid arthritis.
FDA OK’s SetPoint Bioelectronic Therapy Study for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., representing the United States - and states and regions leading on climate across the globe - joined world leaders at the One Planet Summit Tuesday, the two-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement.
Brown in Paris: ‘We Can’t Wait for White House to Wake Up’
The regular Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 19 has been canceled, according to a notification from the city of Santa Clarita today.
City Cancels Dec. 19 Planning Commission Meeting
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, December 19, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Dec. 19: L.A. County Board of Supervisors Meeting
L.A. County's Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force officials unveiled their final recommendations, endorsing a plan to use a voluntary system of trackable bracelets to find people prone to wandering, like those suffering from Alzheimer’s or autism.
County Task Force Calls for Tracking Bracelets to Locate Lost Individuals
The Community Development Commission of the county of Los Angeles looks back on 35 years of advancing its core program areas: affordable housing and housing, community and economic development.
County Community Development Commission Marks 35th Anniversary
Metro is seeking two new members to join the Measure M Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee.
Metro Seeks 2 New Measure M Oversight Committee Members
The California Air Resources Board approved a $663 million low-carbon transportation plan Thursday to increase the use of clean cars, heavy-duty trucks, buses and freight equipment.
Air Resources Board OK’s $663 Million for Clean Vehicles
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station has released its public safety and crime information report for Saugus (Zone 4) for December 4-10, 2017.
Crime Blotter: Shoplifting, Petty Theft in Saugus
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed his strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s illegal attempt to suspend the 2015 Clean Water Rule for two years.
California AG, 10 Others Oppose Feds’ Suspension of Clean Water Rule
Conservation groups on Friday lobbied a federal judge for permission to join a fight between the federal government and a ranching association over a trio of California amphibian species.
Conservationists Lobby to Join Fray Over Frog Habitat
1987 - Incorporation: Santa Clarita officially becomes a city [story]
With an offense that challenged the program’s single-season goals record, The Master’s University women’s soccer team was almost almost never out of any game it played: The Mustangs were always within striking range.
Lady Mustangs Within Range of Directors’ Cup Top Spots
When Ed Jackiewicz met Tera Trujillo in spring 2015, she was studying at a desk she’d carried to the corner of the California State University, Northridge soccer field, in a “time out” of sorts, unable to practice because she’d just earned a D in an economics class.
CSUN’s “Under Armour Faculty” Promotes Academic Success in Student-Athletes
When Rafael Munoz recalls his time at the Layer 8 Computer Security Club at California State University, Northridge, he feels proud and thankful.
CSUN’s Tech Education Makes Top 10 List
The city of Santa Clarita Arts and Events division is currently seeking proposals for solo exhibits for 2018 in the gallery space at The MAIN, the City’s newest arts venue in Old Town Newhall.
City Seeking Artists for 2018 Solo Exhibits
NORTHRIDGE, Calif.---CSUN Men's Basketball returns to the road for the final time in the non-conference season this weekend.
CSUN to Face-Off Against Formal Rival Eastern Washington
Here is a list of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Friday:
Dec. 15: Santa Clarita Arts Calendar
This Friday and Saturday (Dec. 15-16), The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance brings their annual Winter Dance Concert to the REDCAT stage.
Dec. 15, 16: Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Concert at REDCAT
The William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board has approved naming Dr. Collyn Nielsen as Chief Administrative Officer and Jan Hayes-Rennels as Director of Special Programs and Staff Development.
Hart Appoints Nielsen, Hayes-Rennels to District Office Positions
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - The CSUN men's volleyball team was picked to finish third in the inaugural Big West Men's Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll announced Thursday.
Big West Pre-Season Coaches Poll Puts Matadors Volleyball at No. 3
A 44-year-old transient was arrested by SCV Sheriff's Station deputies Wednesday afternoon after he allegedly tried to pick up his 8-year-old niece from a school in Santa Clarita.
Suspect Arrested in Attempted Kidnapping
It was a night to honor exceptional mentors at California State University, Northridge, but the five recipients of the 2017 Don Dorsey Excellence in Mentoring Awards just wanted to talk about their students.
CSUN Pays Tribute to Mentors Who Have Made a Difference
The words leapt right off the page and hung in the air, heavy, encircling the audience. Their creator stood, offering his gifts of verse — shared in a powerful baritone voice.
Literary Star Power Comes to CSUN
While critical fire conditions continue through Friday, the final numbers for the Rye Fire have been released.
Officials Release Final Numbers on Rye Fire
The William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board held it’s annual reorganizational meeting Wednesday night, naming Steve Sturgeon as Board President.
Steve Sturgeon Named 2018 Hart Board President
Castaic Elementary School is collecting gently used children's clothing and toys for the victims of the Creek Fire in Sylmar.
Local School Collecting Clothes, Toys for Creek Fire Victims