Late February through March is the breeding season of Missouri’s common skunk, the striped skunk. After being inactive during the coldest days of winter, these furbearers are now leaving their dens in search of food and mates. Many will fall victim to vehicles when on our roads and highways at night, the musky odor from their scent glands bearing witness of their deaths to hundreds of passing motorists.
The high incidence of skunk deaths on the roads is often attributed to their slow gait and their willingness to stand their ground against any threat. In warmer weather, skunks may be feeding on dead insects on roadways. Grasshoppers, beetles and crickets are most sought after but many other adult insects as well as larval forms are consumed.
A mostly black animal on dark pavement at night is not likely to catch the eye of many drivers and trying to avoid an animal on the highway can put a driver at risk. Skunks use their musk for defensive purposes and also to attract mates. It could be that some of the skunk victims on roads were attracted there by the smell of previously killed skunks. Sometimes it stinks to be a skunk. It’s a smelly, annual cycle of the late-winter season in Missouri.
While most striped skunks are predominantly black with white stripes on their head, neck, back and tail; it’s not too unusual to see brown, cream-colored or even albino skunks. I have seen several of the brown and cream-colored animals dead on the roads over the years. There is not a color or color pattern difference between male and female skunks.
It is not surprising that free-ranging wildlife suffer when we criss-cross the landscape with vehicles traveling at high speeds. Skunks are certainly not the only victims, but they can be one of the most difficult to ignore.