These magnificent creatures are only just now beginning to be understood.
Once considered only a legend--and now severely threatened by systematic
harvesting of their only known food source--the Corn Skunk, spilogale
springicus, is an extremely difficult species to study, due to the
intense shyness, low population density and nocturnal habits of the species
combined with the difficult observing conditions presented by mature
cornfields. Only in the past year have observations been made which
yielded reliable data; much of our current information about the Corn Skunk
is still apocryphal.
The Corn Skunk is, in appearance, markedly similar to the Spotted Skunk,
having the characteristic black fur with broken white stripes. This
similarity led, originally, to the identification of this species with
the Spotted Skunk, which has recently through closer analysis proven
false, though the name spilogale has been preserved until a
clearer classification can be made. Corn Skunks differ from their distant
cousins most noticeably in weight, weighing on average 6-8 times more than
the Spotted Skunk. However, these physical differences are minor as
compared with the vast shifts in behavior patterns Corn Skunks have
adapted to deal with their unique lifestyle.
Like other mustelids, most skunks are mainly carnivorous. While they
will eat fruit in season, their diet is primarily composed of insects,
grubs, and small mammals. Once they reach adulthood, they rarely fraternize
with other adults of their species outside of mating periods.
Corn Skunks, on the other hand, are known only to consume corn. During
corn harvesting periods, they work nearly nonstop to consume and lay away
as much corn as possible to last until the next season. They mate for
life, and this partnership is so crucial to their corn-harvesting activities
that should one member of a pair die, the other will soon starve to death.
They care meticulously for their young for a full year, as the methods used
for food-gathering are quite intensive and take some time for the young
skunklets to master.
The harvesting techniques of this glorious creature are fascinating. The
basic mechanics involve one member of the pair slowly climbing halfway up a
cornstalk, then springing suddenly up to grasp the base of the ear of corn.
At this point, due to the sudden weight of the skunk, the stalk bends down
until the ear is close to the ground. The partner skunk (or ground-skunk),
waiting below, must then quickly grasp the ear of corn and remove it as
quickly as possible. If the operation has been successful, and the timing
correct, the climber-skunk will at that instant jump clear of the stalk and
it will spring back up, leaving no trace of the attack save for the missing
ear of corn, and the pair will either consume the profits immediately or
stack it for later caching. However, fairly commonly, one partner will
mistime the performance. If the ground-skunk fails to catch the ear, or
manages to remove it before the climber-skunk has disentangled its self,
the climber-skunk will be catapulted into the air, sometimes landing as much
as 50 feet away from the original stalk. If the climber-skunk, however,
jumps off the stalk before the ground-skunk has removed the ear of corn,
the ground-skunk, if holding on too firmly, will itself be launched out
above the cornfield, without the benefit of at least gaining the ear of corn.
A typical pairing of skunks may attempt up to 100 ears a night; on average
they will harvest perhaps 75 of these ears and have each of them gone for
roughly a dozen flights and subsequent crash landings. While corn provides
good cover from prying eyes, it does little to break the fall of a fairly
heavy skunk. Injuries are quite common, and few pairings can harvest for
more than a day or two at a time without time off for recovery. Few injuries
are serious, mainly bruising and the occasional sprain, but the work is
quite strenuous. An injured member of a pairing generally takes over the
role of ground-skunk for a night, but should both skunks become injured, the
harvest must wait until one of them has recovered thoroughly enough to climb
For a touching piece of literature concerning these wonderful animals,
you might try the Corn Skunk Story .