What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
Abraham Lincoln

A skunk’s publicity, as referenced above, would be its chemical defense system. All skunks have a highly developed, musk-filled scent glands (even the babies have developed the glands by day eight).

The pungent musk can be sprayed from two special glands near the skunk’s anus up to 10 feet away about five times before running out of fluid. It takes about ten days for the musk to be fully regenerated.


Ernest Thompson Seton (one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America) described the oily, yellow-colored musk as a perfume with the essence of garlic, burning sulfur and sewer gas “magnified a thousand times.”

As such, the skunk has few natural predators which include cougars, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, foxes, and predatory bird such as eagles and owls. Hunting a skunk, and the associated risks, make this a ‘starvation’ choice rather than a normal act.

Their black and white coloring makes skunks highly visible during the day and fairly invisible at night when they are most active. The coloring may not be for camouflage but as a warning advertisement for other animals. This strategy is called ‘aposematism’ and is used by many insects, birds, and other mammals.  

Except for Human Predators

Humans trapped and captively bred skunk for their fur and sometimes as pets. At one time skunk fur was highly sought after. Compared to other animals the fur is more durable and has a rich luster.

Skunk furs were the second most harvested animals after the muskrat. In the late 1890s, skunk farming became popular as a way to meet foreign trade demands. Captive selective breeding and selecting is fairly simple compared to other fur animals. There was high demands for blacker pelts. Skunk faming did not generate a great deal of revenue.

A pet or meal?

Some folks adopted skunks as pets and used them to rid barns of mice and rats. Skunks are highly adaptable to human-conditions and are easy to tame compared to other animals.

Skunk meat was eaten by trappers and indigenous people, and sought after by Chinese immigrants not only for the met but some medical properties. The meat has been described as “white, tender, sweet and more delicate than chicken.”  Maybe that is where the phrase “tastes like chicken” came from. You think?


Striped skunks frequently consume insects and their most favorite insect is the yellow jacket. Skunks are immune to the yellow jacket venom and will dig up their underground nest and eat the bees as they escape.

In the winter, skunks supplement their diet with mice, voles, and other small mammals. They will also feed on eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds, crabs, and beached fish, and vegetable matter (such as fruit, corn, and nightshade vegetables).

Home, Stinky, Home

Skunks make their homes in the ground, under buildings, and in hollow logs and often den communally. They will inhabit unused dens from other animals. They typically occupy dens during late fall, winter, and early spring for rearing kits.

–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Weasels, Skunks, Badgers, and Otters (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/weasels-skunks-badgers-and-otters)
–Brainy Quotes (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lloyd_doggett_307751?src=t_skunk)
–Wikipedia, Ernest Thompson Seton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Thompson_Seton), Aposematism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aposematism), and Striped Skunk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_skunk)
–Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden (https://www.cmnh.org/perkins-wildlife-home/woods-garden/striped-skunk)

It was a bright sunny morning. Beautiful blue skies.
Leaf rake in hand. The dog lagged behind, sniffing as usual.

The garden was just ahead, not more than 10 feet away.
A scuffle. A deep growl. My legs stopped moving.
The dog laser-focused on something angry nearby.

The palette crashed spilling nursery pots across the path.
The cat scream split the morning calm like an untimely tear of a dress seam.
The dog leaped, feet running before touching ground, barking fearlessly.

The cougar looked nearly as big as the 100-plus pound dog.
The giant cat didn’t know the dog also liked to climb trees

and that chasing lions was her birthright.

Not all wildlife is friendly

Courtesy ODFW

Living in a rural area, we are often surprised by the variety of wildlife all around us. Some of it is not very friendly.

Oregon is home to more than 6,000 cougars, also called mountain lions. Quite a change from the estimated 200 cougars counted in the 1960s.

Oregon has three cat species, all belonging to the same family as the domestic house cat. Cougars however are considerably larger than a house cat. Size will vary depending on location and prey population. Males can top 200 lbs. with females being somewhat smaller and lighter.

Territory pressures

Chance interactions with humans increase as cougar populations grow and humans encroach on territories. In recent years, more cougars are being seen in the wrong places, like suburbs.

Interactions occur not just from population increases. Territorial pressure, particularly with males also increase. Males are very territorial and will push out or kill young male cougars to retain it.

Cougars have the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Males can have a huge range of up to 500 square miles; females less.  

Normally cougars are very solitary. On occasion will work as part of a pack (females raising young will congregate). Cougars can be found on the western half of North America including southern Canada, through South America. Some are found on the U.S. East coast.


Like other cats, cougars are graceful and muscular hunters. Great leaping and short sprint abilities make it possible for them to take many types of prey. Cougars will sprint between 40-50 mph, but typically avoid long chases.

They have large front feet with five retractable claws to hold prey. Back feet are smaller with only four retractable claws. Foot prints will look similar to a large dog minus the claws.  

Common prey includes: deer, rodents, porcupines, beavers, raccoons, rabbits, wild turkey, small insects, and baby bears. No species prey on cougars except humans.

Silent hunters

Cougars are not considered a “big cat” like a lion or tiger–they lack the physical ability to roar. Cougars will hiss, growl, purr like a domestic cat, and are well known for their scream. To safely hear cougar screams browse YouTube.

Check out these great references from the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wild life to learn more:
Living with Wildlife, Cougar (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/cougars.asp ) which provides information on tracking, precautions, and safety.
Wildlife Viewing (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/cats) and hunting (https://myodfw.com/big-game-hunting/species/cougar).
Cougar Country brochure (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/docs/CougarBroch.pdf).

Other references include:
–Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cougar) which has an excellent detailed description on cougar characteristics, behavior, range, and more.
–True cougar story above based on author’s experience… Yikes! The dog was a rather large Rhodesian Ridgeback cross. Ridgebacks are used in Africa for hunting cats and will climb trees.

Golden-mantle ground squirrels are the most distinctively-marked ground squirrel in Oregon. Black and white ‘racing’ stripes extend from the shoulder to the hip. The head is russet with a bright orangish-gold face, shoulders, front legs, and feet.

Golden-mantle ground squirrel,
courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife


Ground squirrels are found in dryer areas across Oregon and many states. They favor dry rocky areas, and the edges of meadows, tundra, and forest openings. Golden-mantles are very common throughout their range.

Big Cheeks

Golden-mantles must build body fat to survive hibernation. In the summer, they are busy filling their nearby underground food cache. They carry food with enlarged cheek pouches. If a predator threatens, squirrels will drop pouch contents to run faster.


Predators include coyotes, weasels, bobcats, badgers, snakes, foxes, hawks, grizzly bears, cougars, and sometimes dogs.


They eat just about anything including plant materials (buds, seeds, nuts, roots), many kinds of insects, eggs, young birds, lizards, nuts, mushrooms, and human food. Wildlife feeding is a chronic problem at picnic areas.


Ground squirrels make bold vocal calls, screeching, chirps, growls, and squeals. Sounds include: Screeching predator warnings, aggressive territory fights, and mating season calls.

Fun Facts

Golden-mantle ground squirrels will roll in the dust and comb itself with its teeth and claws to clean its brilliantly colored coat.

Squirrels are good jumpers and sprinters, and Golden-mantles are no exception. Squirrels have muscular back legs, double-jointed ankles, and sharp claws. Depending on the species, squirrels can vertically jump 5 feet and leap over 10 feet. They can run over 8 mph!

–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/squirrels-chipmunks-and-marmots)
–National Park Service, Ground squirrels (https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/groundsquirrel.htm) and golden-mantle ground squirrels (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/golden-mantled-ground-squirrel.htm)
–Wikipedia, Ground Squirrels (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_squirrel)
–How high can squirrels jump? (https://www.squirrelsatthefeeder.com/how-high-can-squirrels-jump/)