Skunk Den Search

by Carl Strang

Last Wednesday, when tracking the skunk at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I ran out of time before I found its den. On Friday I decided to see if I could finish the job. I first went to a known den in the north part of the preserve, not far from where some of the trail had led me. It was a very cold day, and the little stream was completely frozen over. Some beautiful ice crystals had frozen on the surface.

Ice on ice. This sight alone justified coming out in the cold.

There were many beautiful little scenes within the bigger one.

The known den had not been entered or exited since the snowfall. It is possible that this one contains a skunk that stayed home Monday night, or that the skunk had moved out, or it may be in there but dead. Mammalogist Stan Gehrt has found that in northeast Illinois, winter mortality takes out half the skunks typically (the loss is less in mild winters).

A coyote had sniffed at the den, but that was it.

I went back to where I had left the skunk’s trail on Wedneday, heading east past the north end of the parking lot marsh. It turned and went along the top of the ridge that runs between the marsh and the stream to the east.

The ridge clearly is a human construct, formed when the marsh was excavated.

Midway along the crest of the ridge was a hole. It appeared that the skunk had exited and entered it Monday night, but the definitive tracks were obscured by some enormous ice crystals that were forming around the edge of the hole.

I hope you can see the very large crystals growing across the hole.

It was only later, as I was returning to my office, that I realized how odd those crystals were. It occurred to me that they might be forming out of moisture from the skunk’s breath. This was a new possibility, a way of identifying an occupied den under certain conditions such as very cold weather. Next month, during the skunk mating season, I’ll get more opportunities to see if this hole is a skunk den.


  1. January 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any manner you’ll be able to remove me from that service? Thanks!

    • natureinquiries said,

      February 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

      For some reason I cannot find your original comment. Did you send it from a different e-mail address?

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