Volume 4 • Issue 9 • September 2010

All the Fun in September

Join us for the 2010 Wildlife Expo

In September the Lazy E Arena will be transformed into the state's largest indoor and outdoor recreation event - Oklahoma Wildlife Expo. In past, this event brought more than 40,000 people from across Oklahoma and even some from neighboring states to the Lazy E for three days of outdoor and indoor fun!

The Expo celebrates our great state's natural diversity and opportunities for the sporting enthusiasts and newcomers. From camping and outdoor skills to shooting sports and fishing, from bird watching to kayaking, Expo visitors have an opportunity to try their hands at three days of fun in the outdoors.

Though prizes will be in plenty at the Expo, they really only scratch the surface of all that is to be seen, enjoyed and tried hands-on at the Expo.
There is a multitude of activities to participate in at the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo. Above, RosaLee Walker, Private Lands Technician, assists at the pellet gun range during the 2009 Wildlife Expo.  Photo by Lesley B. Carson.
The Wildlife Expo is Oklahoma’s largest outdoor recreation event. Visitors can shoot shotguns and archery equipment, catch a fish from a stocked pond, ride mountain bikes, go kayaking, learn to pack a horse or mule with gear, sample wild game meat, build a birdhouse to take home with them and even attend seminars on a number of outdoor-related topics.

“The entire event is free, but the experiences visitors can take home are priceless,” said Rhonda Hurst, Expo coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “It’s not every day you can try more than 100 hands-on outdoor activities in one trip. There’s something for everyone at the Expo, regardless of age or skill level.”

The Expo is hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in partnership with a wide range of other state agencies, private individuals and outdoor-related companies to promote and perpetuate appreciation of Oklahoma's wildlife and natural resources.

Expo hours will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 25-26. Admission and parking are free. For more information about the Wildlife Expo or the Wildlife Department, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Micah Holmes. Micah is an information and education supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

All About the Smell

The Eastern Spotted Skunk

The Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is primarily black with a white spot under each ear stretching well past the shoulder. Additionally, four or more broken white stripes are scattered along the body. The tail is primarily black, with white hairs at the tip. The smallest species of skunk in Oklahoma, the spotted skunk ranges from one to one and-a-half pounds and is usually 20 inches in length—males are typically larger than females.

Besides the closely related Western spotted skunk, there are two other species of skunks in Oklahoma—the rare hog-nosed skunk and the well known striped skunk. Although there are several differences between the spotted and striped skunk, they are named—and easily distinguished—by facial markings. Spotted skunks have a small white patch on the forehead while striped skunks have a narrow stripe running from the forehead to the nose. Other differences include size, coat pattern, and to wildlife watchers with sensitive noses—scent. Instead of having a sulfur-based musk like striped skunks, spotted skunks use another base, civetone, making the scent muskier and longer lasting.

The Eastern spotted skunk is smaller than the common striped skunk. Photo provided by Missouri Department of Conservation.
Once common across the state, these nocturnal weasels seem to be limited to the eastern half of the state. Even so, small populations have been reported in the southwest portion of the state. The Eastern spotted skunk seems to live where striped skunks do not—in forested or brushy canyons and in rocky hills. It is unknown whether striped skunks compete for food and denning sites with spotted skunks.

Like other species of skunks, the spotted skunk is omnivorous. Exceptionally well-developed claws on the front feet help the skunk dig for roots and insects. The diet also consists of small mammals, fruits, and even birds. Skunks are also known to eat eggs of ground nesting birds, including domestic chickens. In the winter, they feed primarily on vegetation, including standing crops.

April is breeding season for the spotted skunk. Three to seven kits are born in a den 55-65 days after breeding—generally in late May or early June. Kits are born blind, covered in fine black and white hair, and weigh less than an ounce. One month later, the eyes open, and kits can spray musk 15 days later. The litter is weaned at two months. Spotted skunks can breed at 10 months of age.

All species of skunks have two types of defense mechanisms. The first is well-known —the ability to spray an unpleasant scent, or musk. The second defense is the bold, contrasting markings referred to as aposematic coloration. Used not only by skunks, but also badgers and even larvae of Monarch butterflies, this coloration warns potential predators of its defense. Every time a skunk sprays, it uses valuable resources—musk and energy—that have to be built up again, leaving the animal unprotected for a short time. By openly warning predators with bold patterns, skunks can let their coloration act as a defense against potential threats, and use their musk as a secondary defense when the risk is greater.

Once common, though reclusive in Oklahoma, the spotted skunk population has dropped since the early 1940’s. Harvest records show a decrease of nearly 15,000 pelts sold between the 1938 and 1942 period. Although some may contribute the decline of pelts sold to failing fur markets, only 53 spotted skunks were harvested during the 1986-1987 season when fur prices were at an all-time high. Because of the decreasing population, the Wildlife Department closed spotted skunk season in Oklahoma in 1993.

Since closing the season, biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have conducted surveys and searched for a reason for the decline of spotted skunks. In 1997, a public survey asked for any sighting of the spotted skunk to be reported. Several “Wanted” posters were displayed at local establishments across the state; over 200 spotted skunks were reported during the campaign. With this information, biologists were able to identify five conservation areas for the skunk—the Ouachita Highlands, the Boston Mountains, the eastern tallgrass prairie, the north central tallgrass plains and the mixed-grass plains of the Southwest.

Many things are thought to have contributed to the severe drop in spotted skunk populations. Changing landscape seems to be the main cause. Before the decline of the family farm, there were plenty of feeding and denning sites for skunks and other small mammals. However, field edges once providing cover and hunting grounds are now cleared to prevent undesirable plants from entering the fields, and hay is now baled and stored in barns instead of left in large open haystacks.  With fewer and fewer locations to live, the spotted skunk has become a species of special concern.

Written by Jena Donnell. Jena is a wildlife biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Winterizing Your Wildscape

This is the first of a three-part series on getting your Wildscape ready for winter

I can tell when its time to start thinking about winterizing my Wildscape (a.k.a. the part of your property enhanced for wildlife).  Purple martin chatter is replaced by honking Canada geese; drab-colored warblers move quietly down to our stream instead of the boldly colored Baltimore orioles; leopard frogs are back in the garden pond; more hummingbirds are at their feeders; and the butterfly bush and autumn joy sedum flowers are dripping with monarch butterflies.  Fortunately the cooler temperatures energize me and I’m ready to start winterizing my Wildscape!

The Perennial Garden—   Gardening books have been telling us for years to cut down perennials in autumn.  Without a doubt it does make the garden “tidier”, but we are Wildscapers and Wildscapers recognize that “tidy” is not necessarily attractive to wildlife!   Perennials in the winter wildscape are important resources for birds and butterflies.  Butterflies, such as the Viceroy, pupate in a sheltered spot for the winter and other species of butterflies and moths lay eggs in the leaves of perennials for overwintering.  If we cut down these plants we may be destroying next year’s generation of butterflies.  By leaving the seedheads of such perennials as purple coneflower (Echinacea), oxeye daisy (Heliopsis), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), seeds are available for songbirds such as the American Goldfinch, House Finch, Harris's Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco.  Stands of perennials and fallen perennials serve as cover and resting areas for wildlife.

If you maintain a wildflower meadow in your Wildscape and want to mow in the fall, try to mow at a height of at least four inches.  This will not damage the perennials and butterfly eggs in the stems of the plants would not be totally destroyed.

Next month: Winter Shelter for Wildlife

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Wildlife Diversity Donations

Scissortail Supporters

Ronnie Burk, Wagoner

Gloria Slavens, Oakhurst

Wildscape Properties

Newly Certified

Bill & Gala McBee, Tulsa

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.