MISSOULA — When you are out and about, an unpleasant smell of a striped skunk may sting your nostrils.
That smell and sightings have picked up a lot recently.
You may not notice it but the skunk population does really well in human-dominated areas, they’re just pretty sneaky about it.
But this time of year, you may be seeing and smelling them a lot more than usual. The reason for this increase is that first year skunks are dispersing.
The fall is when the young leave the nest. All the skunks, young and adults alike, go wandering off, looking for food and searching out good places to make their winter dens.
Sometimes the young stay with the mother, and sometimes they all split up.
Like bears preparing for hibernation, skunks need to build up stores of fat to help them survive the winter cold.
Skunks don't truly hibernate, though, but they can sleep for a week or two at a time during the coldest parts of the winter.
Although skunks are nocturnal, young ones may be hanging out during the day.
It has been often said that when a nocturnal animal is out during the day, that means it's sick or rabid. But this is not true - in the case of skunks, they're so driven by their need to find food this time of year, they'll be out foraging for as long as possible, whether it's day or night.
The young ones can also seem pretty unconcerned about humans.
The young skunks are just a bit clueless but remember they are on their first solo explorations and attempting to survive in their new world.
Skunks have poor eyesight so keep an eye out for skunks on the road the next few weeks.
It’s always a good idea to drive with wildlife in mind at any time of year.
Because of their poor eyesight if you encounter a skunk make noise to alert them that you are there.
They don’t spray randomly. It takes them up to 10 days to replenish their scent glands so they only spray as a last resort.
Striped skunks give birth to a litter of young, called kits, in the early spring. The kits are born naked, blind, and helpless - pretty much like us.