While I write this column, snow fills the air outside my office window. The weatherman forecast a trace to two inches when I listened during my morning coffee a couple of hours earlier. If it doesn't melt today, the high temperatures for the next few days would see that we kept it around for that time. It might be official spring but it also is officially March which means our snow may not be over for a while. But isn't it great to have as much gone and a blessing that it left in the manner that it did.
More bearable temperatures are nice for us and those same conditions brought out the striped skunks, as well. Late February through March is the breeding season of the striped skunk, our common skunk. After being inactive during the coldest days of winter, these fur bearers are now leaving their dens in search of food and mates. Many will fall victim to vehicles when on our roads and highways at night, the musky odor from their scent glands bearing witness of their deaths to hundreds of passing motorists. A recent and relatively short trip down the highway the other day yielded three sightings of road-killed skunks.
The third caught me off guard and I unfortunately ran over the carcass rather than straddle it like I normally try to do. Upon arrival home, I pulled the car into the garage, hit the garage door remote and exited the car. Within a couple minutes the car was back out on the slab where it spent the night to air out.
The high incidence of skunk deaths on the roads is often attributed to their slow gait and their willingness to stand their ground against any threat. And while they have good eyesight in the first few feet in front of their noses, they can't make out much farther away. In warmer weather, skunks may be feeding on dead insects on roadways. Grasshoppers, beetles and crickets are most sought after but many other adult insects as well as larval forms are consumed.
A mostly black animal on dark pavement at night is not likely to catch the eye of many drivers and trying to avoid an animal on the highway can put a driver at risk. Skunks use their musk for defensive purposes and also to attract mates. It could be that some of the skunk victims on roads were attracted there by the smell of previously killed skunks. Sometimes it just stinks to be a skunk (sorry but I couldn't resist using that pun!). It's a smelly, annual cycle of the late-winter/early spring season around here.
While most striped skunks are predominantly black with white stripes on their head, neck, back and tail; it's not too unusual to see brown, cream-colored or even albino skunks. The white stripes might be pencil thin or so wide that they appear to be one super wide stripe instead of two. And you might find it interesting that there is not a color or color pattern difference between male and female skunks.
Skunks are certainly not the only victims along our roads right now, but they can be one of the most difficult to ignore.