Skunk 101: A Guide to Texas’ Stinky Creatures

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Amanda Higgs
Features Editor
The Ram Page

While driving along any major highway in West Texas, you’re bound to come across one of nature’s most stinky creatures — the skunk.

This black-and-white creature may seem like a nuisance to many, but to ASU biology professor Dr. Robert Dowler, skunks are a fascination.

“When I was in the third grade, all I wanted for Christmas was a skunk,” Dowler said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get one.”

Dowler, who studies all mammals, finds skunks to be the most intriguing because of their “bad reputation.”

“I find skunks interesting because many people have an aversion to them,” he said. “There is a lot of research yet to be done on skunks.”

Dowler has been researching skunks for the past five years at ASU and for the past three years at San Angelo State Park with a selected group of ASU students who are majoring in biology.

“At first, some students are hesitant to work with skunks, but once they see how interesting they are, most students have no problem working with (the skunks),” Dowler said.

During a lecture on March 8, Dowler described some skunk basics.

First, he explained skunks’ eating habits. They are carnivores.

He then talked about their relationship with other animals. Skunks are closely related to weasels, badgers, otters and ferrets.

All of these animals have very developed scent glands, which the skunk uses for defense. Another defense mechanism is a skunks’ coloring, black and white.

The pattern of stripes is also a warning to predators.

Also discussed in the lecture were different ways of researching skunks.

To track a skunk’s movement, a collar is placed on its neck. This collar holds a transmitter which relays data back to Dowler and his staff of ASU students. Occasionally, though, some skunks wiggle their way out of the collar, giving the researchers false data.

“Sometimes we receive a mortality signal from the collars,” Dowler said. “We go and track down (the signal) and most of the time find just a collar with no skunk.”

Dowler also enlightened his audience on the five different types of skunks: striped skunks, hooded skunks, hog nosed skunks, Western spotted skunks and Eastern spotted skunks.

Texas is the only state where all five types of skunks can be found, although only three of them can be found in the Concho Valley — striped skunks, hog nosed skunks and Western spotted skunks.

“All three of these skunks can be differentiated by their markings,” he explained. “Striped skunks have a ‘V’ stripe which meets at the base of its head. Hog nosed skunks have a solid white stripe and a white tail, while spotted skunks have various stripes along its body. Spotted skunks also have a white spot on their foreheads.”

After a brief lesson on skunk identification, a Road Kill ID Quiz entertained the audience.

Pictures of skunk road kill flashed briefly through a PowerPoint presentation while the audience identified each type of skunk.

“After the road kill test, I’m going to be much better at identifying dead skunks while driving at 70 miles per hour,” said Erin Gummere, sophomore. “I’ll never look at skunks the same way again; I’ll be too busy trying to identify them.”