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Ask the Ombudsman

Q: I’ve heard that if you hold a skunk’s tail down it can’t spray. Is this true?

A: According to Schwartz’s The Wild Mammals of Missouri, skunks are reluctant to foul their fur, but they will when provoked and out of options. I know some folks who will testify that holding the tail down won’t prevent getting sprayed. Interestingly, Mr. Schwartz does say that by holding the animal at the neck and base of the tail with the belly up, you can prevent the skunk from arching its back, which apparently is a prerequisite to spraying. He doesn’t say how you keep from getting sprayed prior to taking the animal by the neck and tail.

Baby skunks are born naked with their eyes and ears closed and their scent glands present. Their eyes open at about three weeks, and Schwartz says they can assume a defensive posture at that time; other sources say the young are capable of spraying even sooner. Usually, skunks will provide warning prior to spraying. Foot stamping is one indicator, but the most common warning sign is a raised tail. Skunks are pretty good at sending the spray where they want, if the target is within five to ten feet. Being beyond that distance isn’t pleasant either, but you might escape actually getting hit with the spray if you’re further downrange.

Missouri’s Skunks covers the animal’s biology and remedies for problems. It’s available online to download as a PDF., at most Conservation Department offices, or by writing Nuisance Skunks, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO, 65102 or e-mailing pubstaff@mdc.mo.gov.

Ombudsman Ken Drenon will respond to your questions, suggestions or complaints concerning Conservation Department programs. Write him at P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, call him at (573) 522-4115, ext. 3848, or e-mail him at <Ken.Drenon@mdc.mo.gov>.

Agent Notes

The bridge helped me understand more about nature and about myself.

I grew up on an 80-acre farm south of Sedalia. Bordering our farm was Spring Fork Creek. My brother and I would walk down the gravel road to the concrete bridge that crossed the creek to hang out and play.

I recall watching small clouds of minnows darting around the surface of the water and green sunfish hollowing out nest sites in the gravel. When largemouth bass cruised the creek, all the other fish would swim away. A large snapping turtle that lived under the bridge would lumber around the creek attempting to catch unsuspecting fish that would swim too close.

My brother and I would wade in the creek and overturn rocks in search of crayfish. When we would find one we would hold a coffee can behind it and it would swim backward into the can to avoid us. We would also overturn rocks on the creek bank to uncover earthworms to toss into the creek for the fish to eat.

We learned a lot about nature while spending time at the bridge. We learned where different fish lived in the creek, where they searched for food, and how they interacted with each other. Spend some time sitting on a bridge with a kid. Show and tell them about life in the water, and on land. The experience will touch their lives forever, as it did mine.

We are now accepting applications for the 2009 Conservation Agent Training Class. Click on the job listing at the bottom of this page to see qualifications and apply.

Thomas M. Strother III is the regional supervisor for the Protection Division in the Central Region. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your Regional Conservation office.

Time Capsule

July 1958

How to Fish Lake of The Ozarks was written by Herschel Bledsoe and Agent Claude Ponder about fishing the “mecca of the Midwest for years,” the Lake of the Ozarks. This lake has been the busiest fishing hole in Missouri since it was built in 1932. Its 1,375 miles of rugged shoreline and 129-mile main channel makes it a challenge to any angler. As a man-made lake, the lake is furnished in large numbers and size with largemouth black bass, white bass, spotted bass, walleye, crappie, rock bass, flathead, bluegill and channel catfish, carp, drum, paddlefish and buffalo. Crappie make up 80 to 90 percent of the fish that are caught. Because of its convenient location in the central part of the state, the Lake of the Ozarks is “accessible to all Missourians and anglers from surrounding states.”—Contributed by the Circulation staff

Behind the Code

“Prohibited Species” means no wiggle room on possession.

by Tom Cwynar

You’ll find some unusual names, such as the mitten crab, the multimammot rat and the red whiskered bul-bul, listed under the Prohibited Species section of the Wildlife Code (CSR 10-4.117). Their inclusion puts a regulatory “Do Not Touch!” on each of the species or, in some cases, whole genera. These species “may not be imported, exported, transported, sold, purchased or possessed alive in Missouri without written approval of the director.”

The prohibited species regulation first appeared in the 2006 Wildlife Code. Most of the species listed are the “worst of the worst of invasive species,” according to the Conservation Department’s Invasive Species Coordinator Tim Banek. Protection Division Chief Larry Yamnitz said the regulation allows tighter control of proven harmful species amid increased public interest in culturing or possessing exotic animals.

Snakehead fish, for example, are a serious ecological concern because they are a top-level predator with no natural enemies to curb their population growth. What’s more, they have the ability to “walk” from one water body to another by wriggling across dry land. Snakehead fish have been spotted in more than 20 states, usually as a result of escapes or releases from aquaria, but we don’t want them to come to Missouri.

Some species listed, such as zebra mussels and mysterysnails, are already in Missouri. The intent of the regulation is to prevent their spread into new habitats.

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