It was a surprise, walking out of the home office in mid-June to find a black and white fur ball, small enough to fit into a coffee cup staring up from the edge of the back porch. The next day there were two. Each day more appeared until it was clear that seven kits had set up residence under the back porch.
The ongoing presence of these kit skunks was the prompt to learn more about these cute little stinkers. And of course the first question was, Can young skunks spray? The answer is yes after about two weeks from birth. The mother was never seen and presumed dead as these kits were emaciated, a situation that was dealt with with peanut butter.
The scientific name for spotted and striped skunks is Mephitis mephitis. The Greek word means pestilent or bad odor. If you think about the name, the repeat of the Latin word mephitis in the skunks' taxonomic name catches the essence of the animal, stink squared and that is certainly a fitting descriptor.
Their musk which can be sprayed from two glands controlled by the sphincter muscles for a distance of up to 10 feet and aimed left to right in an arch of thirty degrees is a sulphur compound known as butylmercaptan. Not only does it stink but it can burn locally usually causing no permanent damage even if sprayed in the eyes. The U shaped position skunks take at release has both ends of the skunk facing its adversary and it scents quickly once in position.
Until the mid-1990s the skunk was the most disliked member of the weasel family. Then two researches proved that the skunk genetically was in a family of its own. We should have known that skunks were unique. The weasel family name is Mustelidae while the skunk family name now is Mephitidae. Both names mean stinkers in Latin but skunks are now recognized as a separate species.