Sunday, February 12, 2012

A surfeit of skunks

Striped skunk
(Seneca Falls, NY 2/12)
The "collective noun" for skunks (in other words, the name for a group of skunks) is a surfeit. Technically, I am using this word incorrectly as all of my camera trap photos are of single individuals and not a multitude of them. HOWEVER, I have never had so many total skunk photos in such a short time, nor have I ever photographed so many INDIVIDUAL skunks. I am curious about several things. First, why so many skunk photos? It has been an unusually warm winter here, so it is no surprise that the resident skunks have been active. In cold weather, skunks will hunker down and go into a state of torpor. But why am I getting more skunk photos than I do in the summer? And why so many different individuals? Perhaps that is a reflection of the lack of food that winter brings, even a winter of mild temperatures and little snow.
Another possibility for increased activity could be the onset of mating. It is typical in many mammal species for males to wander farther afield in search of receptive females. I personally believe it is too early for mating. I also don't believe skunks are "fooled" by an unseasonable winter into mating "early". Day-length is probably more of a trigger than temperature to set many biological actions in motion (migration, breeding, antler growth, etc.) as it is far more reliable. Imagine setting your "clock" forward and breeding early because of some unexpected warm weather only to have typical weather return a few weeks later and lose all of the young for the year.
Striped skunk
(Seneca Falls, NY 2/12)
Perhaps there is no reason other than chance. :) But I don't think that is the case. I obtained my first daytime photo of a skunk this week. Although I will never know why that skunk was out and about so late, it adds more weight to the theory that the skunks are more active than usual right now. So let's have a look at the photos and see how many skunks have been prowling around in front of my cameras.
I currently have two Cuddeback Captures out. Both are set on mowed trails. One is directly in the back yard on the pond dike. The other is at the back of the property almost a half mile away. I have had the cameras out in these locations for over four weeks. I checked them on February 5th and then again on the 11th. The camera in the back of the property produced no skunk photos in January or through February 5th, but two photos of two different skunks between the 5th and the 11th. The camera trap in the backyard produced five photos in late January and early February and then another six photos between February 5th and 11th. I am unsure exactly how many individual skunks were photographed. That makes a total of 13 skunk photos but amazing 11 of them came from one camera in a short period of time.
Let's examine the data. First, here are the two photos from the back of the property. The time and date stamps are correct.

SK01: Feb 6 - 01:35
Skunk 01
Back camera

SK02: Feb 6 - 08:32

Skunk 02
Back camera

Clearly, these are two different skunks. To review, these are the only two photos I obtained from the back camera. Now for the camera in our yard. Please note that the date is correct but I have the AM/PM reversed... In order:
SK03: Jan 25 - 19:27

Skunk 03
Backyard camera

Clearly Skunk 03 is a different individual. I have two photos (the other is jan 27 at 0620) of this skunk and both are just tails.

SK 04: Jan 28 - 02:35
Skunk 04
Backyard camera

I have another image of Skunk 04 on Feb 4 02:13.
SK05: Feb 05 - 0405

Skunk 05
Backyard camera

This is another distinct individual. His body markings look a little like Skunk 01 but the tail is clearly different.
SK06: Feb 6 - 02:36

Skunk 06
Backyard camera

Skunk 07 Feb 7 - 19:52

Skunk 07
Backyard camera

Skunk 08: Feb 8 - 22:46

Skunk 08
Backyard camera

SK09: Feb 11 - 19:50

Skunk 09
Backyard camera

I believe skunk 08 is a unique individual as well. I welcome additional opinions, but when I compare I see too many differences for this to be one of the other skunks. NOTE: I am working under the assumption that skunks are symmetrical. Some of the skunks have their right side photographed while others have their left side photographed. I conducted a quick internet search and was unable to find any information as to whether my assumption is warranted or not.
SK10: Feb 11 - 23:37

Skunk 10
Backyard camera

Amazing! Ten individual skunks in such a short period of time. We have few species that are easily identifiable as individuals in New York (antlered deer come to mind). But I wonder what can be done with high quality images and some attention to detail?

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