National Geographic : 1918 May
476 THE NATIONAL GE of Mexico, in 1628, Dr. Hernandez tells us that "the powerful arm which they use when in peril is the insupportable gas they throw out behind which condenses the surrounding at mosphere so that, as one grave missionary says, it appears as though one could feel it." That the little spotted skunk is subject to rabies and has communicated it to many men in the West is unquestionable. It usually bites men who are sleeping on the ground in its haunts, as they commonly do on the western stock ranges. I have personally known of several instances in northern Arizona of men being bitten by them. The head, face, and hands, being un covered, are the points attacked. One man in the mountains south of Winslow, Arizona, was bitten on the top of his head in April, 191o, but paid no attention to the slight wound until two months later when he began to have spasms. He then hurried to town and died in great agony the next day. The year following a man in the same district was bitten in the face, and seizing the animal threw it from him in such a manner that it fell on his brother and bit him before he awakened. Both men were given the Pasteur treatment and had no further trouble. On New Year's night of 1906, while I was at the village of Cape San Lucas, at the extreme southern end of the Peninsula of Lower Cali fornia, a large-sized old male spotted skunk entered the open door of a neighboring house and bit through the upper lip of a little girl sleeping on the floor. Her screams brought her father to the rescue, and with a well-aimed blow he killed the offender. The next morning the skunk was brought to me and added to my collection. As I left a few days later I never learned the result of this bite, but while there was informed that a man had died the previous year from a similar bite. The occasional in stances of this kind are remembered and ap pear more numerous than they are in fact. For years many men have slept in the open where these animals abound, without being molested. It is interesting to find that when the voyager Duhaut-Cilly visited the Cape in 1826, the na tives feared these skunks because they entered houses at night, biting people and infecting them with hydrophobia. The little spotted skunks have extremely ani mated, playful natures, as I have had several occasions to observe. Two instances serve to illustrate this. Once at the mouth of a canyon at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, California, I camped several days at a deserted ranch. At night I spread my blankets on the bare floor of the house, from which the doors were gone. Under it led several burrows of some animal which I at first supposed to be a ground squirrel. Each night while there I was awakened by the sound of little footfalls pad ding rapidly about over the floor on which I was sleeping, and in the dim light from the moon could see two or three little spotted skunks pursuing one another around me like playful OGRAPHIC MAGAZINE kittens. At the slightest movement on my part they dashed out the door and into their dens under the house. As there was no food of any kind in this room, it was evident that the little fellows were there for a frolic on the smooth board floor. On another occasion in the mountains of San Luis Potosi, on the Mexican table-land, I found a spring to which bears were coming for water at night. As the bears here appeared to be strictly nocturnal. I ensconced myself in the evening with a dark lantern, amid some small bushes, against a large pine log which sloped downward to the bottom of the gulch near the spring, with the plan to welcome any bears which might come in. An hour or more after dark the clinking rattle of small stones on the far side of the gulch indicated the pres ence of some animal. The light from the lantern was flashed on the spot and the rifle lowered with exasperation as, running back and forth, turning over stones in search of insects, a spotted skunk was revealed. The movements of this unwelcome visitor were extremely light and graceful, and in my interest in watching them, for a time I forgot the bear. Two or three hours passed and the skunk tired of the hillside and came down to the spring, where he found the offal from a deer which I had placed there for bait. This gave him more to do, and after I had listened to him worry the meat for awhile, I turned on the light and was entertained by the sight thus revealed. The skunk appeared to have a persistent desire to drag away the offal many times his weight. He would seize the edge of one of the lungs and after a hard struggle would get it up on one edge, when the burden would turn over with a flap, whirling the skunk flat on his back each time. Immediately scrambling to his feet, he would give the meat a fierce shake of resent ment and repeat the performance. After a long time the moon arose and the skunk could be plainly seen running back and forth playfully, now biting at the meat and now turning over stones apparently in sheer exuber ance of spirit. Then he suddenly mounted the lower end of the log and came galloping up it until he was close to my shoulder. There he stopped and, coming as near as possible, ex tended his nose within a few inches of my face, and for minute or more stood trying to satisfy himself about this strange object. Satis fied at last, he turned and galloped back down the log and resumed his antics in the gulch, finally working close to the bank three or four yards below me. There he found many small stones and had a fine time rattling them about until I decided that with this disturbing pres ence I should have little chance for other game. Finding a convenient stone, and locating the skunk as well as possible from the sounds, I tossed it over to try and frighten him away. My aim was too true, for the characteristic skunk retort filled the air with suffocating fumes and I immediately lost interest in further bear hunting.