By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff & Dr. Jerry Dragoo of the Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations
Like Bat, after seeing the baby kit Dr. Tam brought home, we fell in love. To learn more about skunks we reached out to Dr. Jerry Dragoo, the expert from A Boy Called Bat. He is a real skunk expert who runs the Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations. In his free time, he does handstands with wild skunks. Yes, really! After exchanging emails with Dr. Dragoo, I have quite the scoop on skunks to share with you.
Mamma Striped Skunks & Their Kits
When a skunk is pregnant, she will have a nightly routine of finding food and securing shelter until her babies are born. Pregnancy for a striped skunk lasts about 59-77 days, which is around two to two and a half months. Mating season starts on Valentine's Day, so baby skunks are usually born between April and early June. Striped skunks can have as many as 12 offspring per litter, but average about 5 to 7. Full grown by 12 weeks or so, kits leave their mamma's den beginning in late summer or early fall. Skunks have an average life span of about 3 years, but can live to be about 5 or 6 in the wild.
Fun Facts on Striped Skunks!
When kits are born they’re blind, deaf, and naked.
Their skin is generally pink with white stripes. Within a couple of days of being born white hairs fill in the stripes and darker hairs fill in the rest.
The typical color pattern of a skunk is a white "V" down their back, although this can vary.
As they get older, striped skunks are capable diggers. They use their long fore-claws to help dig around for food.
In the wild, mamma skunks remains nearby to feed their kits and can tell they’re hungry when they make suckling noises. Very young skunks spend the first week of their life mostly asleep. Once they're about 2-3 weeks old they get more active and will crawl around a lot. This is also the time when their eyes and ears start to open. Once they can see, baby kits start walking. Like human babies, they are clumsy at first but become more stable with practice.
Typically, young skunks start to interact with one another once their eyes open. They will play, stomp, and wrestle as they begin to learn the behaviors they will need as adults. Many of those behaviors are learned by watching their mamma, but they will practice with one another. Once the kits are about 2 months old, they will start following their mamma outside the den. This is when they’ll start weaning from their mamma's milk and start looking for solid food.
Skunks eat pretty much anything they can get their paws on. This can include beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, cutworms, caterpillars, bees, wasps, earthworms, snails, clams, fish, frogs, snakes, mice, moles, rats, squirrels, wild fruits, grains, corn, nuts, bird’s eggs, and garbage. That’s quite a list, right? They’ll even eat pet food if it’s left outside, as wild skunks cannot afford to be picky.
Orphaned skunks, like Thor in A Boy Called Bat, need to be fed every 4 hours or so. When first brought to a rescue center, a team will be put in charge of caring for the kit, kind of like the Tam’s! Single orphaned kits require a little extra love to help them adjust. Young rescues are fed a puppy milk replacer, just like in our book! Sometimes they’re also fed Gerber baby food, just like you ate when you were little! Kits usually like the chicken flavor the best.
Once they have teeth, rescued kits will eat a high-quality puppy food that has been soaked in water. Then, caretakers will begin adding chopped up steamed veggies like broccoli, corn, peas, carrots, and cabbage to the kit’s food. Sometimes they’ll even add scrambled eggs, or maybe a little yogurt! Fruits such as grapes, apples, pears, and bananas also can be added into their diet.
Kits eating solid food are moved into an outdoor enclosure. This helps them practice their natural behaviors like digging, climbing, and foraging (looking for food). At this point rescuers will maintain the food supply in the enclosure, but will stop interacting with the kit as much as possible. This is to help ready them for release into the wild. By late summer or early fall, the skunks are
usually ready for the real world and are released into a spot with plenty of food, water, and shelter.
Skunks usually spray because they’re afraid. When in danger, their first response is to run away. If that doesn’t work, they’ll try charging or stomping their front feet. If all these defensive measures fail, then they will spray. Skunks can spray using several tactics to keep themselves safe, and they tend to have pretty good aim. Their spray is made up of sulfur compounds that evaporate quickly in air, meaning the spray is super smelly and gets into an area quickly. Not only that, but because of the compounds in the spray, the smell can last for a long time - sometimes for weeks! The point is, if
you see a skunk that looks like it’s going to spray, RUN!
Now that you have all of this information on skunks, we hope you’re ready to get to know Thor a little more. Thank you so much to Dr. Dragoo for taking the time to provide us with the scoop on skunks!