Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Skunk Enlightenment

Quick: Think of a skunk. What's the first thing that comes to mind? For many, it's the animal's unmistakable eau de parfum. Which is too bad, because skunk spray has given the wrong impression about these gentle, non-aggressive creatures.

Cat-sized or smaller with long fur and long bushy tails, skunks are easily identified by their distinctive black and white coloration. These near-sighted creatures are omnivores and have a hearty appetite for grubs and insects that are pests to humans. They have also been known to consume mice and baby rats.

Skunks are members of the Mustelid family, a group that includes weasels, martens, and badgers. Found throughout almost all of North America except the far north, skunks often live in suburban areas—unbeknownst to their human neighbors. In the East, spotted skunks prefer agricultural landscapes and spend much of their lives in or near farmyards. Other species, such as the striped skunk, are adaptable to a variety of open, scrub, wooded, and developed habitats. Normally, skunks do not engage in long migrations and have home ranges that encompass a few hundred acres at most. Skunks can be active all year but will remain in dens during cold spells.

Striped skunks breed in February and March and sometimes become quite noticeable when amorous male skunks seek out females who may not be in the mood. Generally, skunks are solitary animals, except when raising young or sharing a den during cold periods.

Baby skunks are generally born in May and June. Skunks den in cavities such as woodchuck burrows, hollow logs, brush piles, stone walls, and under buildings. A den is usually used for brief periods because of skunks' nomadic tendency. Once the babies are mobile, the mother will appear with young, traveling single file behind her.

A skunk's only defense is a familiar noxious odor created by a sulfuric acid that can be "fired" from either of two independently operating anal glands. Contrary to popular myth, striped skunks cannot spray over their backs. However, spotted skunks do have the unique ability to spray while doing a handstand. Skunks have a limited supply of ammunition; they don't waste their defensive spray, because they can't "reload" very quickly. Instead, they stamp their front feet as a warning when threatened, giving ample opportunity for an intruder to back off.

—Laura Simon, Director, Urban Wildlife, The Fund for Animals, New York City

Striped Skunk

Found over most of the North American continent north, the Striped skunk is about the size of a house cat and can weigh up to 14 pounds.

Spotted Skunk

The Western Spotted Skunk(S. gracilis) occupies mostly lowland wooded areas in North America west of the Continental Divide from southern British Columbia to Central America. The eastern species (S. putorius) is found opposite of the Divide in prairie and wooded areas south to Mexico but not as far east as the Great Lakes. The spotted skunks are smaller, faster and more agile than the striped skunks .

Hooded Skunk

The Hooded Skunk can be distinguished from the Striped skunk by its longer tail and longer, softer coat of fur. A ruff of white fur around its neck gives the animal its common name. The hooded skunk is most abundant in Mexico, but its range extends into Central America and into the southwestern United States.

Hog-nosed Skunk

The individual hog-nosed skunk species vary in size, but among them is included the largest of all skunks. All are characterized by comparatively short hair, especially on the tail, and this appendage lacks the plumelike appearance observed in other skunks. The nose is prolonged into a distinct "snout", naked on the top and sides and evidently used for rooting in the earth after the manner of a pig. The hog-nosed skunk ranges from Mexico through central America and down to South America.

"I'm adorable! Don't hate me!"

(images:http://www.windstar.org/eMagazines/eMagazine24/website%2520baby%2520skunks%25201.jpg, http://www.halkorberphoto.com/Striped%20Skunk%20in%20Fall%20copy%20web.jpg, http://www.striped-skunk.com/pictures-images-gallery/striped-skunks-01.jpg, http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/mammalogy/mamwash/Images/spotskunk.jpg, http://itech.pjc.edu/sctag/hooded_skunk/skunk1.jpg, http://www.hunter-ed.com/wildlife/wildlife_specific_images/wildlife_photos/hog_nosed_skunk.jpg, http://www.stinktierbuch.de/skunk-baby1.jpg)

Monday, February 25, 2008

German police dogs to wear shoes

BERLIN - Police dogs in the western city of Duesseldorf will no longer get their feet dirty when on patrol — the entire dog unit will soon be equipped with blue plastic fiber shoes, a police spokesman said Monday.

"All 20 of our police dogs — German and Belgian shepherds — are currently being trained to walk in these shoes," Andre Hartwich said. "I'm not sure they like it, but they'll have to get used to it."

The unusual footwear is not a fashion statement, Hartwich said, but rather a necessity due to the high rate of paw injuries on duty. Especially in the city's historical old town — famous for both its pubs and drunken revelers — the dogs often step into broken beer bottles.

"Even the street-cleaning doesn't manage to remove all the glass pieces from between the streets' cobble stones," Hartwich said, adding that the dogs frequently get injured by little pieces sticking deep in their paws.

The dogs will start wearing the shoes this spring but only during operations that demand special foot protection. The shoes comes in sizes small, medium and large and were ordered in blue to match the officers uniforms, Hartwich said.

"Now we just have to teach the dogs how to tie their shoes," he joked.

(Story here)

(image: http://img.alibaba.com/photo/11342809/Dog_Boots.jpg)

Monday, February 18, 2008


It was Monday at 4:30pm and I had just come from "Colony to Nation" with Dr. McArthur. Because I had randomly decided to wear a skirt, I was more chilly than I normally would be on this brisk February day. Therefore I was hurrying down the promenade, my mind on what I had to accomplish before my 6pm class. I had to rush home and find some food, find the paper I had written for my class and skim the chapter that I had not really read to have an idea of what we were going to discuss that evening. And I was cold. So as I approached the student center I decided to go in and see if anyone interesting was around and un-thaw myself before the plunge down the road to Southern Village. Alas, no one was around so I turned to head out. An older lady was behind so I held the door for her. "Thank you honey," she rewarded me with after the first set of doors and after I held the 2nd door open she came up and put her arm around me. "If you have a few moments you should go to the prayer garden and look for a surprise. You have to sit down, look at the plague and then look around before you will see it." I smiled and thanked her, but was quite puzzled. What in the world was she talking about? I didn't want to turn around immediately to head back up the promenade while she was watching me so I walked in to the religion building with the excuse to check my box. Having found nothing in my box I walked back up to the prayer garden. At first I wondered what plaque she was talking about but figured she meant the large wooden sign with the quote from Steps to Christ. I walked over and stood in front of the sign.

"'God is love' is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass. The lovely birds making the air vocal with their happy songs, the delicately tinted flowers in their perfection perfuming the air, the lofty trees of the forest with their rich foliage of living green -- all testify to the tender, fatherly care of our God."

I looked around, and then down. There were flowers - snowdrops scattered about the area next to the sidewalk. They were all around and they were so lovely against the brown ground. Snowdrops, my grandma has told me, are one of the first signs of spring, along with crocuses (croci?). "'God is love' is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass." I smiled. I bet this is what the lady was talking about! The little flowers were so delicate and pure and such a beautiful illustration for the quote. As I left I noticed some other students walking toward the sign in the prayer garden. I bet that lady had told them to come looking for a surprise in the prayer garden too! What a neat lady!

Now, I can't be positive that the snowdrops are what the lady was talking about. Perhaps there was a monkey scurrying around the trees or something else she was talking about. However, I think I found what the lady was hoping I would look for and find- a reminder of God's love in the midst of my busy, preoccupied day. And I hope those who came behind me found the same.

Don't get too busy; don't get too preoccupied to not notice the little reminders everywhere of the great God that we serve. He wants us always to have in our minds how much He loves us. Look around and see the flowers, hear the birds, smell the rain, appreciate the smiles, laugh with little children, admire the blue sky- they all testify of our Savior's love.

(images: http://www.spain4uk.co.uk/images/wildlife/flowers/snowdrops.jpg, http://www.tipperary.com/images/gallery/Snowdrops.jpg, http://www.dutchflowers.com/catalog/images/crocus_yellow_mammoth.jpg)