Ask the Steward

By Dan Ernst

Question:  Where do skunks go in the winter?

Answer: The only skunk native to Indiana is the Striped Skunk and it is widespread across the state and one of our most common mammals.  In the wild, skunks inhabit woodlands, grasslands and drier grounds around wetlands.  Skunks will den in burrows dug with their strong front claws or under buildings – primarily abandoned buildings. 

They are not true hibernators, but will shelter for extended periods of time during the coldest winter months.  During this time of dormancy they have an extended inactive period and rarely feed or move about.  Come February-March, the breeding season kicks in and a litter of 4-6 kits are born approximately 66 days later.  The kits will stay near the mother for up to a year.  She is very protective of the kits while they are young – and will spray with little provocation.  Fully grown a skunk may weigh around 11 pounds.

Interestingly skunks have poor eyesight and generally are unable to see objects more than 10 feet away. This partially explains why they are vulnerable to death by road traffic.  

Question:  What is the longest river in Indiana?

Answer:  That would easily be the Wabash River at nearly 512 miles.  The mighty Wabash, Indiana’s official State river, has its beginnings in western Ohio, approximately 30 miles east of Portland, Indiana.  The name ‘Wabash’ comes from the Miami Indian word “wah-bah-shik-ki”, or in French -‘Oubache’.  This means “pure white” and refers to the white limestone riverbed in its Northern reaches, particularly noted in Huntington County.

The Wabash includes the nation’s longest stretch of free flowing river east of the Mississippi, and forms a 230-mile boundary between southern Indiana and Illinois until it empties into the Ohio River at Indiana’s Southwest corner.

For 200 years the Wabash was a major trading route, linking Canada and the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River; however, 1905 saw the last steamboat journey on the river.  The Wabash is a remarkable river, and within its reach lies some of the finest bottomland hardwood forests in the world!


Dan Ernst is an Assistant State Forester with the Indiana Division of Forestry. He oversees the state forests in Indiana and has authored the “Ask the Steward” column for years.  Have a question for the column? Email Dan at .