102            Large-tailed Skunk

                          MEPHITIS MACROURA.--Licht.

                              LARGE-TAILED SKUNK.
                                 [Hooded Skunk]

                               PLATE CII.--MALE.

     M. magnitudine felis cati (domestica), fusco-niger, striis duabus albis
dorsalibus, vitta alba frontali, cauda capite longiore.

     Size of the domestic cat; general colour, brownish-black; a white stripe on
each side of the back, and on the forehead; tail longer than the head.


     MEPHITIS MACROURA.  Licht., Darstellung neuer oder wenig bekannter
       Saugthiere, Berlin, 1827-34, Tafel xlvi.
     MEPHITIS MEXICANUS GRAY.  Loudon's Mag., p. 581.  1837.


     Body, as in other species of this genus, stout; head, small; nose short,
rather acute, and naked; ears short, rounded, clothed with short hair on both
surfaces; eyes, small; claws, slender and weak; soles of the feet naked.
     The body is covered with two kinds of hair; the first long and glossy, the
fur underneath soft and woolly; tail very long, rather bushy, covered with long
hairs, and without any of the softer and shorter fur.


     There are slight variations in the markings of the specimens we examined in
the museums of Berlin and London, and in those we possess.  This species
appears, however, to be less eccentric in colour and markings than the common
skunk M. chinga.
     In the specimen from which our figure was made, there is a rather broad
longitudinal white stripe running from the nose to near the back of the head;
upper surface of neck and back, white, with a narrow black dorsal stripe
beginning on the middle of the back and running down on the upper surface of the
tail; a spot of white under the shoulder, and another along the flanks; the
hairs on the tail are irregularly mixed with white and black; under surface
     Another skin from the same region has a narrower stripe on the forehead,
the usual white stripes from the back of the head along the sides nearly meeting
again at the root of the tail, leaving the dorsal black patch very much broader
than in the specimen just described, and of an oval shape; the tail contains a
greater number of black hairs, and towards the tip is altogether black; sides,
legs, and whole under surface, black.
     LICHTENSTEIN's figure resembles this specimen in form and markings, with
the exceptions that it represents scarcely any black patch on the back, and that
it exhibits a longitudinal white stripe running from the shoulder to the hip.
Lichtenstein has also described and figured the young of this species, which
very closely resembles the adult.


     Male.--Killed January 28, 1846.                        Feet.    Inches.

       From point of nose to root of tail,  .  .  .  .  .  .  1        4
       Tail (vertebrae),  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1        1
       Tail to end of hair,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1        6
       Between ears,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  0        2 1/4
       Girth around the body, behind fore-legs,.  .  .  .  .  0        9
       Girth around the belly,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1        2 1/2
       Height from sole of fore-foot to top of shoulders,  .  0        8 1/2

                        Weight, 4 1/2 lb.--specimen fat.


     In Texas, during the winter of 1845-6, specimens of this skunk were
obtained by J. W. AUDUBON; the first he met with was seen on one of the high and
dry prairies west of Houston, on the road to Lagrange; this was, however, only a
young one.  It was easily caught, as these animals never attempt to escape by
flight, depending on the fetid discharges which they, like the common skunk,
eject, to disgust their assailant and cause him to leave them in safety.  By
throwing sticks and clods of dirt at this young one, he was induced to display
his powers in this way, and teased until he had emptied the glandular sacs which
contain the detestable secretion.  He was then comparatively disarmed, and by
thrusting a forked stick over the back of his head, was pinned to the ground,
then seized and thrust into a bag, the mouth of which being tied up, he was
considered safely captured, and was slung to one of the pack-saddles of the
baggage-mules.  The fetor of this young skunk was not so horrid as that of the
common species (Mephitis chinga).
     On arriving at the camping ground for the night, the party found that their
prisoner had escaped by gnawing a hole in the bag, being unobserved by any one.
     This species is described as very common in some parts of Texas, and its
superb tail is now and then used by the country folks by way of plume or feather
in their hats.  J. W. AUDUBON, in his Journal, remarks:  "We were much amused at
the disposition manifested by some of the privates in the corps of Rangers, to
put on extra finery when opportunity offered.  At one time a party returned from
a chase after Indians whom they had overtaken and routed.  Several of them had
whole turkey-cocks' tails stuck on one side of their hats, and had long pendant
trains of feathers hanging behind their backs, which they had taken from the
'braves' of the Wakoes.  One young fellow, about eighteen years of age, had a
superb head-dress and suit to match, which he had taken from an Indian, whom, to
use his own expression, he had scared out of it; he had, to complete the
triumphal decoration of his handsome person, painted his face all the colours of
the rainbow, and looked fierce enough.  In contrast with these freaks of some of
the men, we noticed that their tried and chivalrous leaders, HAYS, WALKER,
GILLESPIE, and CHEVALIER, were always dressed in the plainest costume the
'regulations' permitted."
     The Large-Tailed Skunk feeds upon snakes, lizards, insects, birds' eggs,
and small animals; and it is said that at the season when the pecan (Carya
olivaeformis) ripens, they eat those nuts, as well as acorns.  This is strange,
considering their carnivorous formation.  They burrow in winter, and live in
hollows and under roots.  They produce five or six young at a birth.
     We are indebted to Col. GEO. A. MCCALL, U. S. A., for the following
interesting account of an adventure with one of these Skunks, which, besides
being written in an entertaining and lively manner, sets forth in a strong light
the dread the very idea of being defiled by these offensive brutes causes in
every one who has ever been in those parts of the country they inhabit:--
     "In New Mexico, in September last, returning from Los Vegas to Santa Fe, I
halted for the night at Cottonwood creek.  Here, I pitched my tent on the edge
of a beautiful grove of the trees (Populus angulatus) which give name to the
     "Wishing to reach my destination at an early hour on the morrow, I directed
the men to be up before day, in order that they might feed their horses, get
their breakfast, and be ready to take the road as soon as it was fairly
daylight.  After a refreshing sleep, I awoke about an hour before day, and the
familiar sound of my horse munching his corn by the side of my tent, where he
was usually picketed, informed me that my men were already astir.  At this hour,
the moon, almost at the full, was low in the west, and flung its mellow light
adown the mountain gorge, in rays that were nearly horizontal.  And therefore,
not finding it necessary to strike a light, I was on the point of rising, when I
heard, as I thought, my servant opening the mess-basket, which stood near the
foot of my bed.  I spoke to him; but receiving no answer, I turned my eyes in
that direction, and discovered on the front wall of my tent a little shadow
playing fantastically over the canvas, upon which the moon's rays fell, after
passing over my head.  With a hunter's eye, I at once recognized in this shadow
the outline of the uplifted tail of a Mephitis Macroura, vulgo Large-Tailed
Skunk, whose body was concealed from my view behind the mess-basket.  Into this,
doubtless attracted by the scent of a cold boiled bacon-ham, he was evidently
endeavouring to effect an entrance.
     "Being well acquainted with his habits and character, I knew I must manage
to get rid of my visitor without seriously alarming or provoking him, or I
should in all probability be the sufferer.  I therefore thought I would at
first, merely in a quiet way, signify my presence; on discovering which,
perhaps, he would take the hint, and his departure at the same time.  So, 'I
coughed and cried hem!' but my gentleman only raised his head above the top of
the basket for a moment, and then renewed his efforts to lift the lid.  I now
took up one of my boots that lay by my bed, and struck the heel smartly against
the tent-pole.  Again the intruder raised his head, and regarded me for a
moment; after which he left the basket and passed round the foot of my bed,
which, I should mention, was spread upon the ground.  At first, I thought he
had, indeed, taken the hint, and was about to slope off.  But I had, in fact,
only excited his curiosity; and the next moment, to my horror, I saw him turn up
by the side of my bed, and come dancing along with a dainty, sidling motion, to
examine into the cause of the noise.  His broad white tail was elevated, and
jauntily flirted from side to side as he approached.  In fact, his approach was
the sauciest and most provokingly deliberate thing conceivable.  As every step
brought him nearer to my face, the impulse I felt to bolt head-foremost through
the opposite side of the tent, was almost irresistible; but I well knew that any
sudden motion on my part, whilst in such close proximity to the rascal, would be
very apt so to startle him as to bring upon me that which I was seeking to
escape, and of which I was, in truth, in mortal dread; whilst, on the other
hand, I was equally aware that my safety lay in keeping perfectly still, for it
was quite probable that the animal, after having satisfied his curiosity, would,
if uninterrupted, quietly take his departure.  The trial was a severe one, for
the next moment the upright white tail was passing within a foot of my very
face.  I did not flinch, but kept my eye upon it, although the cold sweat broke
out upon my forehead in great globules.  At length the fellow finding nothing to
alarm him, turned about and with a sidelong motion danced back again to the
mess-basket.  Finding now that he had no thought of taking himself away, I
exclaimed internally, 'Mortal man cannot bear a repetition of what I have just
experienced!' and laid my hand upon my rifle, which stood at my head.  I weighed
the chances of killing the animal so instantly dead that no discharge of odour
would take place; but just at this moment he succeeded in raising the top of the
basket and I heard his descent among the spoons. 'Ha!  ha!  old fellow, I have
you now!' I said to myself; and the next instant I was standing on the top of
the mess-basket, whither I had got without the slightest noise, and where I now
heard the rascal rummaging my things little suspecting that he was at the time a
prisoner.  I called my servant--a negro.  George made his appearance, and as he
opened the front of the tent paused in surprise at seeing me standing en
dishabille on the top of the mess-basket.  'George,' said I, in a quiet tone,
'buckle the straps of this basket.'  George looked still more surprised on
receiving the order, but obeyed it in silence.  I then stepped gently off, and
said, 'Take this basket very carefully, and without shaking it, out yonder, in
front, and set it down easily.'  George looked still more bewildered; but,
accustomed to obey without question, did as he was directed.  After he had
carried the basket off to a considerable distance, and placed it on the ground,
he looked back at the door of the tent, where I still stood, for further orders.
'Unbuckle the straps,' said I; it was done.  'Raise the top of the basket:'  he
did so; while at the same time, elevating my voice, I continued, 'and let that
d--d Skunk out!'  As the last words escaped from my lips the head and tail of
the animal appeared in sight, and George, giving vent to a scream of surprise
and fear, broke away like a quarter-horse, and did not stop until he had put a
good fifty yards between himself and the mess-basket.  Meanwhile, the Skunk,
with the same deliberation that had marked his previous course (and which, by
the way, is a remarkable trait in the character of this animal), descended the
side of the basket, and, with tail erect, danced off in a direction down the
creek, and finally disappeared in the bushes.  I then, having recovered from a
good fit of laughter, called to George, who rather reluctantly made his
appearance before me.  He was still a little out of breath, and with some
agitation, thus delivered himself, 'Bless God, massa, if I had known there was a
Skunk in the mess-basket, I never would have touched it in this world!'  'I knew
that well enough, George, and that was the reason I did not tell you of it.'
     "It is only necessary further to say that the animal, having been neither
alarmed nor provoked in any way, did not on this occasion emit the slightest
odour; nor was any trace left in my tent or mess-basket, to remind me afterwards
of the early morning visitor at my camp on Cottonwood creek.'--Philadelphia,
June 24th, 1851.
     We have heard of some cases in which this Skunk, having, penetrated into
the tents of both officers and men, on our southwestern frontier, has been less
skilfully managed, and the consequences were so bad as to compel the abandonment
of even the tents, although soused into creeks and scrubbed with hopes of
destroying the "hogo."

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     This species exists on the western ranges of the mountains in Mexico.  The
specimen described by LICHTENSTEIN was obtained by Mr. DEPPE in the mountains to
the northwest of the city of Mexico.  The animal was seen by Col. G. A. MCCALL
in New Mexico, between Los Vegas and Santa Fe.  The specimen figured by JOHN W.
AUDUBON was obtained near San Antonio, and he describes it as common in the
western parts of Texas.  It is not found in Louisiana, nor near the sea-shore in
Texas.  It will, we think, be found to inhabit some portions of California,
although we cannot state this with certainty.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     There are several species of this genus, which are found to vary so much in
the distribution of their colours that many mere varieties were described as new
species, without any other characters than those presented by the number of
stripes on the back, or the predominance either of black or white spots on the
different portions of the body.  BUFFON described five species.  Baron CUVIER,
in his "Ossemens Fossiles," took much pains in endeavoring to clear up the
difficulties on the subject of these animals yet, owing to his not possessing
specimens, and his too great dependence on colour, he multiplied the number of
some species which are now found to be mere varieties, and omitted others which
are unquestionably true species.