Are skunks aggressive, dangerous animals? Or are they peaceful animals that try to avoid trouble? Well, biologists who study skunks think of them this way: if life were a sport, skunks would be known for their strong defense and for playing fair.
Skunk stinkiness comes from a chemical weapon called musk. Foxes, weasels, and some other mammals also produce musk, but skunk musk is especially strong and long-lasting. And only skunks use musk to defend themselves from attack.
Picture a skunk ambling along in the night, looking for food. It digs in the soil to get tasty earthworms and beetle grubs. The black and white fur that comes with just being a skunk sends a warning. This color pattern is unusual among mammals. It signals: "Beware, don't mess with me!"
Suppose a coyote or other predator ignores this first warning. It steps toward the skunk. When a skunk feels threatened, it faces the danger. It raises its tail and tries to look as big as possible. It stamps its feet and clicks its teeth together. It may growl or hiss.
Oh, oh! Despite all of these warnings, the coyote growls and comes closer. Now the skunk gets really serious. It twists its body into a U-shape, so it can see the coyote and also aim its rear end toward it. The skunk's tail arches over its back, away from its rear—the final warning. This gives the skunk a clear shot, and also protects its own fur from the stinky musk. Skunks try to avoid smelling bad!
From two grape-sized glands, a skunk can spray musk as a fine mist, or squirt a stream. It can squirt accurately for about 12 feet (3.7m), and hit an attacking animal right in the face. The musk stings the predator's eyes, and can blur its vision for a while. And it stinks! Animals hit with this musk learn to never bother a skunk again.
A skunk's glands store enough musk to fire a half dozen shots but then need a week or so to produce more. This is seldom a problem, since a skunk sprays only when its life seems to be in danger. Some skunks can go for months or even years without spraying musk. That's fine with them. Skunks want to avoid trouble, and "play fair" with their many warnings.
A skunks’s stripes point to where the spray comes out. A 2011 study found that animal species that choose fight over flight when faced with a predator often have markings that draw attention to their best weapon. So while a badger has stripes on his face to highlight his sharp teeth, skunks’ stripes are perfectly positioned to highlight their ability to spray potential threats. By http://www.birdphotos.com via Wikimedia Commons
Skunks are so nice that some people want to keep them as pets. The striped skunk is the most social skunk and the one most commonly domesticated. The legality of keeping skunks as pets in the US varies by state, with it being illegal in a majority of them. By Matt MacGillivray via Wikimedia Commons
Larry Pringle has written many animal books, among them The Secret Life of the Red Fox. His The Secret Life of the Skunk was published by Boyds Mills Press in 2019. It is about spring and summer in the lives of a mother striped skunk and her kits.
ML 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "How Skunks Play Fair." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/how-skinks-play-fair.
If you go to the nation’s official World War I Museum, in Kansas City, Missouri, you might see a paving stone that reads:
And you might say, “Huh?” So here’s his story, just for you to know:
In 1917 Connecticut, a terrier puppy strayed onto a Yale University field, where soldiers were training to fight in World War I. There is MUCH to say about WORLD-CHANGING WWI. For instance, it began late summer, 1914 Europe. On April 6, 1917, the US joined 23 other Allies, such as Great Britain, in their fight against the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
The puppy quickly learned army life and lots of tricks. Private John R. Conroy adopted the pup he named “Stubby” and tried to sneak him overseas. When Stubby was discovered, he charmed the angry officer by raising his right paw and saluting him!
Stubby and Conroy served in France, by Germany’s border, where millions of soldiers fought one another along a 450-mile battle line. This was WWI’s deadly Western Front. Soon, Stubby was nearly killed by poison gas. Because the attack sensitized his nose, he became a barking, life-saving, put-your-mask-on early warning device! With his sensitive ears, Stubby could hear a lost or injured man then go help him. Once, he heard a suspicious-sounding man. Stubby chased and caught a German SPY by the seat of his pants! For this, SERGEANT STUBBY, the official mascot of the 26th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, became the first dog ever promoted by the US Armed Forces.
WWI ended when the victorious Allies made their enemies agree to an ARMISTICE: As of 11 A.M. November 11, 1918, the fighting would STOP.
For his brave actions, battle-scarred Sgt. Stubby was WWI’s most decorated dog. Even the top US officer, General John J. Pershing himself, gave him a medal! How did Stubby wear his awards? They were attached to his soft leather blanket, made by grateful Frenchwomen. Stubby met three Presidents (Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge). In America, Stubby was in LOTS of victory parades and he appeared at Georgetown University football games, too, as their team mascot. (Conroy studied law there.)
Faithful Sgt. Stubby was about ten when he passed away in Conroy’s arms on March 16, 1926. His obituary was printed in the New York Times. Still, you can visit Stubby (his preserved remains anyway), in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Ghosts of the Civil War is author/illustrator Cheryl Harness's popular sequel to her Ghosts of the White House. Here she takes readers on a fantastical, factual time travel journey through the Americans' tragic war between themselves.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Sergeant Stubby." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/sergeant-stubby.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wolf? You’re born in a cozy, dark den under the ground, probably along with at least one brother or sister. Your eyes are closed shut, but you can smell and feel your way over to your mother to drink sweet, warm milk from her teats. Your father and older brothers and sisters bring food from their hunts to feed your mother.
Your eyes open in about two weeks, but you can’t see much in the darkness of the den. You nap a lot, snuggled up to your siblings and your mom. Then, about a week later, your mother leads you all out of the den into the sunshine. How different it is up here! Now you explore the wild world, wandering among the trees, lapping water from a creek, wrestling and tumbling with your brothers and sisters.
After you get bigger and stronger, you and your family leave the den and move to a safe outdoor area. It’s scary at first, being in a strange new place with no dark den for comfort. An older brother or sister watches over you and the other pups while the rest of the family, or pack, goes hunting. When the hunters return you rush up and lick their faces and they share the meat they got on the hunt. All the older wolves in the pack let you climb all over them and nip their ears and tails while they take care of you, protecting you from danger.
All that good meat helps you grow into a big, strong wolf, with thick, shiny fur. In the fall, you go along on the hunt and learn how to find game and how best to catch it. Hunting is exciting but dangerous. You or other family members might get kicked by a deer or stomped on by a moose. But if you get injured, the other wolves take care of you until you recover. You are family, and family is what matters.
Grey wolf. © Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 2014
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "What's It Like Being a Wolf?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/whats-it-like-being-a-wolf.
celebrating nature, inspiring good writing
Lots of people are fond of the cartoon character called Taz. He is loud, always hungry, not very smart, and sometimes spins his body around like a little tornado. He pops up in video games and even appears in television ads.
Cartoon Taz is based on a real animal known as a Tasmanian devil. The “devils” are marsupials related to kangaroos and wombats. They used to live in Australia, but now survive only on Tasmania, an island state just south of the Australian mainland.
Tasmanian devils have black fur, short legs, and are about the size of a beagle dog or a big house cat. Long ago, people named them "devils" because of their sounds. They grunt, huff, snarl, and click their teeth but especially give out loud, fierce, blood-curdling screeches and screams.
And you know that spinning tornado thing that cartoon Taz does? It is based on the animal's actual behavior. When a Tasmanian devil is in a fight, or defending itself, it moves very rapidly. It flashes a view of its side, making itself look as big as possible. Then it quickly shows its front, with gaping mouth and teeth. Back and forth, back and forth it turns, showing two kinds of threats, and appearing to be whirling around.
Tasmanian devils fight a lot. They battle over food, and in mating season, males compete for females. This behavior has helped put their whole species in big trouble. Beginning in 1996, a disease began to kill the devils. It's a cancer that grows quickly on the faces of these mammals. When they fight, they often bite one another's face. This spreads the disease. An infected animal soon dies. In less than 20 years the whole Tasmanian devil population dropped by ninety percent.
Still, there is hope. Scientists have learned more about the disease, and perhaps a vaccine can be created to protect devils. Also, healthy devils are being kept in zoos and other places where the disease can't reach them. And scientists have learned that some wild devils in Tasmania seem able to resist the disease.
With help from people, Tasmanian devils may survive. We can hope these fascinating creatures make a comeback, and once again scream loudly in the Tasmanian night.
We have been taught to fear scorpions in any form. But scorpions usually sting either to subdue their prey or to protect themselves. In fact, Earth has two thousand scorpion species, but only a few dozen are deadly to humans. With vivid descriptions of scorpions’ life cycle, body structure, habits, and habitat and beautiful, realistic illustrations, Laurence Pringle's Scorpions! Strange and Wonderful explores one of nature’s feared and misunderstood creatures. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "Taz in Big Trouble." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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African American History
Anderson Marian 1897-1993
April Fool's Day
Brill Marlene Targ
Carson Mary Kay
Cartoons & Comics
Carving (Decorative Arts)
Cinco De Mayo
Civil Rights Movements
Civil War - US
Clocks And Watches
COBOL (Computer Language)
Code And Cipher Stories
Collard III Sneed B.
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Congressional Gold Medal
Declaration Of Independence
De Medici Catherine
Douglass Frederick 1818-1895
Edison Thomas A
Forensic Science And Medicine
Hollihan Kerrie Logan
Hot Air Balloons
Lafayette Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier Marquis De 17571834
Lewis And Clark Expedition (1804-1806)
Louis XIV King Of France
Oaths Of Office
Patent Dorothy Hinshaw
Schwartz David M
Swinburne Stephen R.
Thompson Laurie Ann
Trung Sisters Rebellion
Us History Revolution
Weatherford Carole Boston
Woman In History
Women Airforce Service Pilots
Women In History
World War Ii
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