In Florida, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Striped Skunk can be mistaken for each other, particularly if the squirrel is one of the dark color variations. Both species have an habitual behavior of walking through grass in an ambling fashion with their bushy tails arched up over their backs to the back of their heads. Both have fairly pointed, narrow heads and inquisitive dark eyes. Although Eastern Fox Squirrels are most active during the day, and Striped Skunks are more active at night, both animals can be seen searching for nuts, berries, and insects in the early morning hours.
My mother, who had an easy affinity with all kinds of animals, hand fed chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and skunks at my grandfather’s house in Moultonborough, New Hampshire as a young woman and had a scurry of fox squirrels she fed on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County ten years later. The chipmunk picture was taken on a 2016 on a visit to my grandfather’s former residence, and little guy is likely a direct descendant of those clever little beasts my mother used to hand feed.
A recent encounter with a rabid raccoon by a hiker in Maine reminded me of the only rabid animal I ever saw during my years on the ranch. That bobcat my father shot after the stumbling crazy-eyed animal staggered toward him in the barn one morning. Since the local veterinarian was coming to the ranch that day to tend to some of the horses, the bobcat’s body was put aside for him. The vet confirmed the bobcat was rabid on his next visit to the ranch, and spent some time warning my brother and I of the dangers we faced if we ever came face-to-face with a potentially rabid animal. Fortunately, none of my mother’s wild companions confronted her after contracting rabies, but my father did not think the practice of “making pets of giant furry-tailed rats” was reasonable. My mother disagreed…and won that argument.
From “Fox Squirrels not Skunks,” the 11th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:
On my maternal grandmother’s first visit to the ranch, she arrived on a Friday evening about dusk and had little opportunity to see much of the surroundings before night fell. When I came out for breakfast the next morning, she was already seated at the dining room table with her back to the back door of the house that was entirely jalousie windows from top to bottom. A movement outside the door caught my eye, and, in turn, my movement caused my grandmother to look behind her. With a shriek, she bolted out of the chair and was behind me in the middle of the room in a heart beat.
“A skunk!” My grandmother shouted.
My mother, who was preparing breakfast in the kitchen, laughed, came striding across the floor with a couple of peanut butter laden crackers already in her hand, and replied “That is just one of my little friends.”
She opened the back door as the fox squirrel stepped down off the stoop and sat upright with his front paws outstretched, waiting for his treat.
“You have always had a way with animals.” My grandmother reminisced. “I’ll keep my distance all the same.”