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The Story Of Wild Animals:
 Story Of The Ferret

 Story Of The Chipmunk

 Story Of The Cavy

 Story Of The Marten

 Story Of The Lemur

 Story Of The Echidna

 Story Of The Mink

 Story Of The Wapi

 Story Of The Wolverine

 Story Of The Skunk

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Story Of The Skunk

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The most ill-favored of all American animals is the skunk, owing to the odor of a secretion which it is able to eject with great force. The secretion is contained in a pair of glands and is ejected only when the creature is attacked or irritated.

So forcibly can the amber-colored fluid be ejected that it will carry from a distance of thirteen feet to a little over sixteen feet. It appears that there is a marked difference in the intensity of the odor of the secretion in different individuals of the common skunk, which is probably in part due to the age, of the animal, and in part to the length of time which has elapsed since the preceding discharge took place. When freshly ejected, the fumes from the secretion are pungent and acrid in the extreme, and are capable of producing extensive swelling of the respiratory passages. When inhaled without the admixture of a large amount of atmospheric air the unhappy victim loses consciousness and breathes stertorously, the temperature falls, and the pulse slackens, and if the inhalation were prolonged the results would doubtless prove fatal.

The following story shows the lasting effect and strength of even one drop of skunk secretion:

"A settler in the Argentine Republic started one evening to ride to a dance at a neighbor's house. It was a dark, windy evening, but there was a convenient bridle path through the dense thicket of giant thistles, and, striking it, he put his horse into a swinging gallop. Unhappily the path was already occupied by a skunk, invisible in the darkness, that in obedience to the promptings of its insane instinct, refused to get out of it until the flying hoofs hit it and sent it like a well-kicked football into the thistles. But the forelegs of the horse as high as the knees were liberally sprinkled, and the rider, after coming out into the open, dismounted, walked away twenty yards from his animal, literally smelled himself all over and pronounced himself clean. Not the smallest drop of the diabolical spray had touched his dancing shoes so far as he could discover. Springing into the saddle he proceeded to his journey's end and was warmly received by his host.

"In a little while the other guests began exchanging whispers and significant glances. Ladies coughed and put their handkerchiefs to their noses, and presently began to feel faint and retire from the room.

"The settler began to notice that there was something wrong, and presently discovered the cause. He had been the last person to remark that familiar but abominable odor, rising like a deadly vapor from the floor, conquering all other odors and every moment becoming more powerful. A drop had touched his shoe after all!"

The skunk, of which there are several varieties, is an exclusively American animal.

The common skunk is an inhabitant of Northern and Central America, ranging from Hudson's Bay in the north to Guatemala in the south, and it may be compared in size to a rather small cat, the length of the head and body always exceeding a foot. It is a stoutly built animal, with a small head, short and rounded ears, a moderately long body, and legs of medium length. The long and bushy tail is thickly clothed with very long and 'fine hair, and is, as already mentioned, generally carried curled over the back when the animal is walking. Its length, inclusive of the hair, is somewhat less than that of the head and body. The general color of the moderately long hair of the body is black or blackish, and, although there is a great amount of individual variation, the white markings usually take the form of a streak on the forehead, a spot on the neck, and two stripes running down the back. The tail is black, more or less mixed with white, or merely tipped with the same. In some cases the white stripes do not extend beyond the neck, so that the back is entirely black.

The long-tailed skunk from Mexico differs by its longer and more bushy tail, of which the whole length is not less than that of the head and body.

More distinct is the lesser skunk, ranging from the southern United States to Yucatan and Guatemala. This species never exceeds a foot in length from the snout to the root of the tail, the whole tail being distinctly shorter than the head and body. It has four white stripes on the body, together with some spots, and the tail is tipped with white.

In South America the group is represented by a very distinct species known as the white-backed skunk. This skunk differs from all the others by its heavier build and more pig-like head and snout. The ears are extremely small, and the tail is shorter and less bushy than in the other skunks. In size this species is the largest of the group, some specimens attaining a length of about twenty-four inches, exclusive of the tail, although the more usual dimension is about eighteen inches. The color is even more variable than in the common skunk, but in general the two white stripes on the back are very wide. The tail is either pure white or black and white.

The range of this species extends northwards from Patagonia and Chili through Central America to Texas.

The habits of all the species of skunks are very similar.

Skunks are good climbers, but appear to prefer clearings and open glades rather than dense forests, and they may be frequently found in the neighborhood of human dwellings, although in Patagonia and the Argentine pampas they inhabit perfectly open country. In common with other members of the family they are largely night animals, but may be met with walking abroad in the evenings in North America, while in Patagonia the white-backed species, conscious of its power, roams by day about the open plains, and fears neither dog nor man.

This indifference to the presence of other creatures is, indeed, one of the most striking characteristics of the skunk, and is doubtless clue to the immunity of attack which these creatures possess, owing to their nauseous secretion. In Nicaragua the skunk goes leisurely along at night, holding up his white tail as a danger-signal for none to come within range of his nauseous artillery. So indifferent is the common skunk to the presence of man that in many parts of the United States these creatures are not unfrequently run over in the evenings on the roads by passing vehicles. The peculiar and conspicuous coloration, of the skunks is generally regarded by naturalists as belonging to the class of so-called "warning colors." Such warning colors would seem to benefit the would-be enemies rather than the conspicuous forms themselves. But the conspicuous animal is greatly benefited by its warning colors. If it resembled its surroundings, like the members of the other class, it would be liable to a great deal of accidental or experimental tasting and there would be nothing about it to impress the memory of an enemy and thus to prevent the continual destruction of individuals. The object of warning colors is to assist the education of enemies, enabling them to easily learn and remember the animals which are to be avoided.

In the Adirondack region the chief food of the common skunk consists of mice, salamanders, frogs, and the eggs of birds that nest on, or near the ground, while such hens' nests as are met with are sure to be robbed, and an occasional raid is made on the poultry-yard. A large number of beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects is likewise consumed by these animals.

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