This week’s Santa Clarita Valley Outdoor Report by Wendy Langhans explains how solitary animals, like skunks, and social animals, like meerkats, protect themselves.
I was talking with a friend a few days ago. We engaged in the usual small talk, until I noticed the small skunk logo on his shirt. I broke into a huge grin and said, “Ah HA! You must have gotten that shirt from the Skunk Works®!”
Part of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Skunk Works®’s name comes from their initial location. Back in 1943, they were located in “a rented circus tent next to a manufacturing plant that produced a strong odor, which permeated the tent.” And anyone whose ever gotten near the tail end of an angry skunk understands only too well how powerful an odor can be.
Which raises an interesting question about how animals defend themselves against predators: “Why do some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups…?” In a recently published study, biologists Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis and Theodore Stankowich of California State University, Long Beach attempted to answer this question using a “comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions”.
They found that animals such as skunks, which are solitary and nocturnal, used spraying to protect themselves from other animal predators. While more social and diurnal animals such as meerkats live in social groups to protect themselves from birds of prey.
Meerkats provide good examples of the various strategies used by social animals to protect themselves from predators.
1) Eyes on the sky. Meerkats will stand as sentries, searching the sky for hawks or a eagles.
2) Mobbing. Meerkats will “mob” a predator to drive it away. Click here to see a video of meerkat’s mobbing a snake and a genet (type of wildcat).
3) Sound the alarm. Meerkats will “squeek” to warn the others of an approaching predator.
But what if you’re skunk, out alone at night? Dr. Stankowich thinks the spraying stragegy works just fine: “Spraying is a good close-range defense in case you get surprised by a predator”. And those huge, black and white stripes leading toward the tail (the site of the skunk’s sprayer nozzle) can serve as a kind of corporate logo, a not-so-subtle reminder, just in case that predator has tangled with a skunk before.
A reminder, just like the skunk logo on my friend’s shirt. I teased him a bit by saying, “Nice shirt; I like the suble black and white striped pattern. But don’t you think those stripes should be should be a bit wider?” And we both laughed at that.
Free Birding App. For those of you who are looking for a good birding app for your Apple cellphone or iPad, the Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy is offering a free app. Click here for more information.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, February 15, 8-10 am. Winter Weather and Bird Behavior. On the coldest days of the year, birds adapt to keep warm in many ways. Learn about some of the behavioral changes that take place. Beginning birders are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. Click here for map and directions.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, February 5, 12, 19, & 26.
Saturday mornings, January 15.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.
Ask Dr. Norm: Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley? Here’s a place for you to ask your questions. Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at California State University, Northridge.
Tell Us About Your Hike: Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains.
Source: Santa Clarita News