Just as Mother Nature asked who they should learn about next, Happy Jack Squirrel spied some one coming down the Lone Little Path. “Look who’s coming!” cried Happy Jack.
Everybody turned to look down the Lone Little Path. There, ambling along in the most matter-of-fact and unconcerned way, came a certain four-legged friend who was dressed all in black and white.
“Hello, Jimmy Skunk,” shouted Chatterer the Red Squirrel. “What are you doing over here in the Green Forest?” Jimmy Skunk looked up and grinned. It was a slow, good-natured grin. “Hello, everybody,” he said. “I thought I would just amble over here and see what you are all up to gathering together. Have any of you seen any fat Beetles around here?”
Just then Jimmy noticed Mother Nature. “Please excuse me, Mother Nature,” he said, “I don’t mean to interrupt.”
Mother Nature smiled. The fact is, Mother Nature is rather fond of Jimmy Skunk. “You aren’t interrupting,” she said. “The fact is, we have just ended the learning session about Flitter the Bat and his relatives, and were trying to decide who to focus our attention on next. I think you came along at just the right time. You belong to a large and rather important order, one that all these little folks here ought to know about. How many cousins have you, Jimmy?”
Jimmy Skunk looked a little surprised at the question. He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Let me see,” he said, “I have several close cousins in the Skunk branch of the family, although I’m guessing you want to know who my cousins are outside of the Skunk branch. They are Shadow the Weasel, Billy Mink, and Little Joe Otter. These are the only ones I can think of now.”
“How about Digger the Badger?” asked Mother Nature.
A look of surprise swept over Jimmy Skunk’s face. “Digger the Badger!” he exclaimed. “Digger the Badger can’t be a cousin of mine!”
“Digger the Badger is just as much a cousin of yours as is Shadow the Weasel,” Mother Nature confirmed. “You are members of the same order and it is a rather large order. It is called the Car-niv-o-ra, which means ‘flesh-eating.’ You are a member of the Marten or Weasel family, and that family is called the ‘Mus-tel-i-dae.’ Digger the Badger is also a member of that family. That means that you two are cousins. You and Digger and the Wolverine all belong to the stout-bodied branch of the family. Billy Mink, Little Joe Otter, Shadow the Weasel, Pekan the Fisher and Spite the Marten belong to its slim-bodied branch. And all are members of the same family despite the difference in looks, and thus, of course, are cousins. Seeing that you are here, Jimmy, I think we will find out just how much these little folks know about you.”
“Peter Rabbit, could you tell us what you know about Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.
“Well, I do know one thing about him,” declared Peter, “and that is he is the most independent fellow in the world. He isn’t afraid of anybody. I saw Buster Bear actually step out of his way the other day.”
Jimmy Skunk grinned. “Buster always treats me very politely,” said Jimmy.
“I have noticed that everybody does, even Farmer Brown’s boy,” added Happy Jack Squirrel.
“It is easy enough to be independent when everybody is afraid of you,” sputtered Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“And just why is everybody afraid of Jimmy Skunk?” asked Mother Nature.
“They are afraid of that little scent spray he carries,” spoke up Peter Rabbit. “I wish I had one just like it.”
Mother Nature shook her head. “It wouldn’t do, Peter, to trust you with a scented spray the likes of Jimmy Skunk’s,” she said. “I am afraid there would be trouble in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadow all the time as I suspect that you would drive everybody else away. Jimmy never uses that little scent spray unless he is in real danger or thinks he is. Usually he is pretty sure that he is before he uses it. I’ll venture to say that not one of you has seen Jimmy use his scent spray.”
Peter looked at Jumper the Hare. Jumper looked at Chatterer. Chatterer looked at Happy Jack. Happy Jack looked at Danny Meadow Mouse. Danny looked at Striped Chipmunk. Striped looked at Johnny Chuck. Johnny looked at Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. Then they all looked at Mother Nature and shook their heads. “I thought as much,” she said. “Jimmy is wonderfully well suited for using the scented spray for defense only as needed. He never misuses it. And since everybody knows he has it, nobody interferes with him. Now, Peter, what more do you know about Jimmy?”
“He is good-natured,” said Peter, and grinned at Jimmy.
Jimmy grinned back. “Thank you, Peter,” he said.
“He is one of the best-natured people I know,” continued Peter. “He also eats Beetles and grubs and Grasshoppers and Crickets and insects of all sorts. I am told that he eats eggs when he can find them.”
Jimmy also noted “I might as well add to the list that a Mouse is rather to my liking, young birds, and I also enjoy a Frog now and then, or a Lizard, or a fish.”
“Is that all you know about Jimmy?” asked Mother Nature of Peter.
“I guess it is,” replied Peter, “excepting that he lives in a hole in the ground, and I seldom see him out in winter. I rather think he sleeps all winter, the same as Johnny Chuck does.”
“I do sleep a lot during the winter,” said Jimmy, “however I don’t go into winter quarters until well after the snow comes, and I don’t sleep the way Johnny Chuck does. Sometimes I go out in winter and hunt around a little.”
“Do you dig your house?” asked Mother Nature.
Jimmy shook his head. “Not when I can help myself,” he said. “It is too much work. If I have to I do, although I would much rather use one of Johnny Chuck’s old houses. His houses suit me first rate.”
“I want you all to look at Jimmy very closely,” said Mother Nature. “You will notice that he is about the size of Black Shadow, the Cat from Farmer Brown’s, and that his coat is black with broad white stripes. However, not all Skunks are marked alike. I dare say that no two of Jimmy’s children would be exactly alike. I suspect that one or more might be all black, with perhaps a little bit of white on the tail. Notice that Jimmy’s front feet have long, sharp claws. He uses these to dig out grubs and insects in the ground, and for pulling over sticks and stones in his search for beetles. Also notice that he places his feet on the ground very much as does Buster Bear. That big, bushy tail of his is for the purpose of warning folks. Jimmy never shoots that scent spray without first giving warning. When that tail of his begins to go up in the air, wise people watch out.”
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Jimmy Skunk and his family do a great deal of harm. The truth is, they do a great deal of good. Once in a while they will make the mistake of stealing Chickens or eggs. They make up for all they take in this way by the pests they destroy. Jimmy and Mrs. Skunk have a large family each year, usually from six to ten. Mrs. Skunk usually is living by herself when the babies are born and when they are big enough to walk their father rejoins the family, and you may see them hunting together for Grasshoppers or Beetles. Often the whole family remains together all winter, not breaking up until spring. Jimmy is very neat and takes the best of care of his handsome coat. He isn’t afraid of water and can swim if it is necessary. He does most of his hunting at night and sleeping during the day.”
“Jimmy has cousins in nearly all parts of this great country. Way down in the Southwest is one called the Hog-nosed Skunk, one of the largest of the family. He gets his name because of the shape of his nose and the fact that he roots in the ground the same as a hog. He is also called the Badger Skunk because of the big claws on his front feet and the fact that he is a great digger. His fur is not so fine as that of Jimmy Skunk, and is rather coarse and harsh. He is even more of an insect eater than is Jimmy.”
“The smallest of Jimmy’s own cousins is the Little Spotted Skunk. He is only about half as big as Jimmy, and his coat, instead of being striped with white like Jimmy’s, is covered with irregular white lines and spots. He lives in the southern half of the country and in his habits is much like Jimmy, although he is much livelier. Occasionally he climbs low trees. Like Jimmy he eats almost anything he can find. And it goes without saying that, like Jimmy, he carries a little scent spray too. By the way, Jimmy, what do you do when you are angry? Can you show us?”
Jimmy began to growl, an odd-sounding little growl, and at the same time stamped the ground with his front feet. Mother Nature laughed. “When you see Jimmy do that,” she said, “it is best to pretend you don’t see him and keep out of his way.”
“Hasn’t Jimmy any predators at all?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“That depends on how hungry some folks get,” replied Mother Nature. “Hooty the Owl doesn’t seem to mind Jimmy’s little scent spray, however this is the only one I can think of who doesn’t. Some of the bigger animals might take him if they were starving, although even then I think they would think twice.”
“Now, who knows where Digger the Badger is living?” asked Mother Nature.
“I do,” replied Peter Rabbit. “He is living out on the Green Meadows over near the Old Pasture.”
“All right, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, “suppose you run over and pay him a visit and tomorrow morning you can tell us all about it.”
- Can you think of any other “famous” skunk characters in books or movies? If so, how often is the scent spray brought up as the primary thing to know about skunks? Could you write a story about a skunk and focus on something other than the scent spray? What might you write about?
- Why hadn’t any of the four-legged friends seen Jimmy Skunk use his scent spray? Have you ever seen a skunk spray? Or have you ever smelled the spray? Did you know the scent can be detected for half a mile away? Write or draw about your skunk scent experience in your nature journal.
- *Have you ever seen skunk tracks? The skunk takes short steps and goes slowly so that it makes a double track with the imprints being very close together. The foot makes a longer track than that of the cat and walks upon both palms and heels as well as toes.
- *How big is a skunk? How does a skunk benefit a farmer? Do skunks make any vocal noises?
- Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more information and a photo of a skunk.
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.