The other chilly evening, as I sat on my deck, contemplating the universe (and watching a satellite traverse the sky), a soft sound interrupted my reverie. I assumed it was the neighbor’s cat, who often visits me for a head scratch.
I looked down and froze. It wasn’t the cat at all, but a skunk…a weird-looking skunk. Having been raised on a farm in southwest Louisiana and having lived in the country, I have seen many skunks, but have never seen one like this. It stopped just a yard from my feet (which were propped up on a chair), I figured I was in trouble. I was too far from the backdoor, and the patio table blocked me from fleeing into the dark yard. My mind raced through the treatments for skunk spray, but at the moment, I couldn’t think of any.
Amazingly, the animal didn’t appear to see me. It stopped at the edge of the deck, still just a few feet away, looking around the edge of the deck into the darkness and seemed to be listening to some sound that it obviously heard, but I could not. Then it ambled away into the darkness, leaving me a little shaken. Worried that it might return and see me, I slowly arose and made my way back into the house.
Usually, the smell of a skunk precedes it, alerting other potential threats to stay away. But this time there was no scent.
Back in the house, the wife and I looked through out books and searched online for the animal. Instead of stripes, it had what looked like a pure white fright wig that extended from the nose to the tip of the tail, drooping down over its sides.
It was, we learned a hooded skunk – (Mephitis macroura) – translated to foul odorous, long tailed animal.
Mostly vegetarian, its preferred food is prickly pear, but it will also eat insects, bird eggs and small vertebrates. Unlike our native skunks (Mephetis mephitis) which means foul-foul odorous animal – (notice that “foul” is used twice to describe the striped skunk with which we are more familiar), no record of rabies exists among the hooded skunk population, although their spray is just as horrid. They do however have parasites- nematodes, roundworms and fleas, which fairly well excludes them from human consumption.
We also discovered that my skunk was far out of its habitat range, which includes far southern New Mexico and Arizona, and near the Chisos Mountains in west Texas. It’s range also continues on to most of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras Nicaragua and northwest Costa Rica.
They tend to den near rocky areas, crevices or human-made objects with a permanent water source and plenty of plants. The, like most of the skunk family, are nocturnal and solitary.
Possible reasons for the hooded skunk to have extended its range to east Texas is increased population density, more land taken up for farming, and climate change. As I have mentioned before, we are seeing more and more animals move northward from more tropical and hotter climes.
As you can see from the photo, it’s a rather interesting animal. I would warn against petting it, however. Since it’s nocturnal,you may want to leave yourself a quick exit path if you are caught unawares staring at the stars on your patio.