Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Phenology 2013: Skunks about and students in "lab"

During the week February 20th, we saw evidence of active Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) for the first time since December.

For example, while out and about with my advanced ecology students, I found some nice tracks.

These are some of the better skunk tracks I've come across.  As Halfpenny and Biesiot (1988)mention, skunks have a plantigrade print.  In other words, as they walk, their flat foot (heel and all) comes entirely into contact with the ground.  Contrast this with the digitigrade tracks of canines, whom basically walk on their toes (or digits....see the fox prints below and elsewhere on this blog).  Skunk tracks can be fairly easy to identify, if you get a good print, due to the chunky-looking pads on the heel and ball of the foot (which are clearly separated from eachother).  Yet, Halfpenny and Biesiot also also state that skunk tracks are often "indistinct due to the sloppy walking and long hairs on the feet".

So, I felt fortunate to find such nice prints.

The last good evidence of active skunks on-site was a brief glimpse during our first snow-storm of the winter (seen below investingating an old burrow) back in late December. 
Prior to that, it was early December.  This was an also during an uncharacteristically warm beginning to the winter. they are on the prowl again.  February can be an important breeding period for them 'round here.  Interestingly, it is also the same time (within a couple of days) that I first got pics of them active in 2012 at this site (see here).

The students were also setting up some scent stations last week during "lab" (outdoor lab, that is....indoor labs give me a case of the BORINGS! :)  ).  This is similar to the experiment we set up last year.

A good indication that you've found a decent spot is the presence of scat....tracks....or a urine mark.  So, how about all three?!
I'd say that if a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) decides to leave that much sign around, it's a good spot for a camera set and scent station.  An interesting thing to note: look at how small that urine spot is?  Probably not alot of urine deposited when marking that location.  Do you y'all think that might give a good indication of how much scent one should put down to attract fox?

This year, unlike last year, frozen ground was a force to be reckoned with.
But they managed...

Now we wait to see who meanders by.....


  1. When I read an excellent post like this I'm reminded of my deficiencies when it comes to tracks and tracking. These skills are essential to any aspiring camera-trapper.

    1. Hey Jeremy! Thanks for your kind words. Tracking is more fun than not. I'm no expert....but have taken several workshops and always attempt to improve my craft.... We also have it alot easier than you do. For example, I have only one large herbivore (a single ungulate) whose tracks I need to know. Only two Canids in this area..... Raccoons...oppossums....skunk....all have very unique tracks and easy to tell apart most of the time.

      You have it much more difficult where you are!!

  2. I've never seen skunk scat. It looks very weasely to me...twisty and ropey. Another cool lab, wish I could join!

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! Too bad we can't have you come and talk to our students groups about your current post-bacelaurette life! Then you could join the lab for a week :)

      The tracks/scat/urine are actually from a red fox...not skunk.

      Skunks are very cool.

      Last night I was fortunate enough to watch one outside in the snow near our house for about 5-10 min. Our daughter is currently sick. She fell asleep in the living room on the couch at about 5 I turned out all the lights and worked on my computer in the dark until bed. This gave me the ability to see outside pretty well! Thus, I happened to see the skunk out of the corner of my eye through the window. Watched his dark shape trudging through the snow in the front yard for awhile. They are rather comical, especially when up to their bellies in snow!

      Pretty fun.

    2. Ok, apparently I can't read. Thanks for the clarification! And if the opportunity ever arose to visit your neck of the woods, I would love to join in!