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February 17, 2020

Love Stinks

By Lauren Hogarth

Love is in the air, and it’s almost as if we can smell it. Oh, wait… we can. However, it isn’t love that is making our eyes water, but rather the all too familiar stench of skunks. In Michigan,  skunk mating season stretches from February through the end of March. This means you may notice that familiar smell wafting through your neighborhood, as well as increased sightings of skunks’ bushy black tails scurrying for cover— or maybe even some of the less fortunate specimens alongside the road.

Skunks Mating Habits

The trademark stink we’ve come to recognize occurs when males attempt to court females who may not be “in the mood”, per se. When this happens, female skunks will generate the aroma to repel the dejected suitors. Fortunately, this epic skunk romance only lasts a short time.

After a sixty-day gestation, the pregnant female skunks give birth to their litter of 4 to seven pups in April to May. Older females come into their breeding season earlier in the season than the younger females and, therefore, give birth to their litters earlier in the spring. Older females also tend to bear larger litters. Females tend to breed by their second summer. In a typical population of skunks, the vast majority of the females will be pregnant or will have just had litters.

Most female striped skunks only reproduce once a year; however, males will reproduce multiple times, with numerous females. After mating, the females no longer associate with males and will become aggressive towards them.

Litters & Life Expectancy

After mating, female skunks disperse from their winter dens to separate maternal dens to wait out their gestation.

The young are born blind and deaf with short, fine fur. Despite this, they already have patterns present on what little coat they have at birth. Pups do not open their eyes until they are about three weeks old, and then they continue to nurse until they are about six weeks to two months old. It is around this time that they learn to forage and hunt by following their mother in a single-file line during outings. The mothers protect their young; during this time, she displays extremely defensive behavior, so it is essential to avoid a little of skunk pups should you come across one. The male young become independent by July to August, while the female young may remain with their mothers until the following spring season. Both males and females begin mating around ten months old.

Unfortunately for most, striped skunks usually do not survive their first year due to severe weather conditions and disease. After that first year, they can live up to seven years in the wild and up to a decade in captivity. Other factors contributing to skunk mortality include predation and parasitism, as well as risk from road systems and hunting.  Like humans, skunks who don’t get lucky can’t die of shame. As the saying goes— try, try again.

So the next time you’re outside this spring season and notice that familiar stench, take a moment of silence for yet another guy who, much to his chagrin, struck out on love. Poor sap. Better luck next time!

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