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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.

Corn Skunk Picture 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 again.

For a touching piece of literature concerning these wonderful animals, you might try the Corn Skunk Story .