There are four different kinds of skunks found in the United
States. The spotted and striped skunks are the most widely distributed and therefore
more likely to come into contact with people. The hooded and hog-nosed skunks are
rarer and found mostly in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The spotted skunk prefers
the country and spends most of its life near farms. The striped skunk is more
adaptable and lives in a variety of habitats.
Skunks are placid, retiring and non-aggressive. They try
very hard not to get in harms way. They have a home range of a few hundred
acres at most. They are primarily nocturnal and usually solitary except when
mothers are raising their babies. They are active throughout the year, but in
northern areas, they spend the coldest parts of the winter in their dens.
Skunks eat mostly insects, many of which are pests to humans.
They are therefore very beneficial to have around. They also eat some plant
material, including wild fruits, apples and corn. In winter and spring they may eat
mice and the eggs of ground-nesting birds.
Breeding usually occurs in late winter or early spring and
gestation averages about 60-75 days, so babies are usually born in May or June.
Second litters and late births do occur. After mating, a female can store the
males sperm and delay initiating pregnancy for some weeks. Litters range from
3 to as many as 10 young who remain in the nest for about two months, after which they
begin to follow their mom as she forages.
All skunks seem able to dig their own burrows but will also
use abandoned dens of other animals, hollow logs, wood or rock piles, under buildings,
stone walls, hay or brush piles and trees or stumps.
The skunks main defense is a complex chemical substance
that includes sulfuric acid that can be fired from either one of two independently
targetable anal glands. Because of this ability, skunks will stand and face a threat
rather than run away. This works well with people and animals but is useless against
cars. As a result, many skunks die on roadways -- to the point of being wiped out entirely
from areas with a lot of traffic.
Skunks can carry rabies, but it is important to remember that
not every skunk is rabid. Only if an adult skunk seen in the daytime is showing
abnormal behaviors such as paralysis, unprovoked aggression, moving in circles,
self-mutilation should you call your local animal control officer or police department.
Problems and Solutions
Occasional skunk sightings in a neighborhood doesnt
necessarily mean there is a problem. Measures can be taken to discourage skunks from
sticking around. These include removing garbage and pet food left out at night and
eliminating convenient denning sites such as wood and rock piles, elevated sheds, openings
under concrete slabs and porches and access to crawl spaces under houses.
Skunks are usually announced more from smell than sight.
Musk odor might linger for days where a skunk has sprayed. Persistent, faint
musk smells associated with a 4-6 inch diameter hole under a building or woodpile
indicates that a skunk may have taken up residence. If you discover a den that you
suspect might belong to a skunk, first check to see if the occupancy is current.
This may be done by loosely filling the hole (or holes) with soil, leaves or material such
as straw. If a skunk is present, it will easily push its way out that night and
reopen the hole. If the plug remains undisturbed for two or three nights (and it is
not winter), it is safe to assume that the hole is unoccupied and can be permanently
closed. If a skunk, or any other animal, is present, either harassment or eviction
using a one-way door system is recommended.
Harassment - When it is safe to displace skunks, mild harassment can be
very effective. First try repacking the hole the skunk is using with leaves or other
material to see if it will get the message and move elsewhere. If this fails, place
ammonia-soaked rags near or inside the burrow to one side so that the skunk has to pass
them to get in and out. Make sure the skunk is not close by before taking either of
Eviction A skunk may be evicted from an active den by installing a
one-way door over the entrance to allow it to leave but prevent reentry. These doors
are available commercially. One company that sells them is the
Tomahawk Live Trap Company
P. O. Box 323
Tomahawk, Wisconsin 54487
Care must be taken to ensure that the door can open without hitting an obstruction.
Leave the door in place for two or three nights to be sure that the skunk has left.
Be sure that no new holes appear nearby. Remove the door and close the
PLEASE NOTE: Do not
install a one-way door in May or June when there may be babies left behind in the den.
The babies will starve and possibly discharge their spray before dying.
Instead, either wait for the skunk family to move or use mild harassment to try to
accelerate the process. The mother skunk will, under the right circumstances, carry
her babies to a new den. Do not permanently seal the opening until the plug remains
undisturbed for several nights.
If a skunk becomes trapped in a window well (the basement
window area), the best method of freeing it is to provide it with a means of escape.
In the well, place a rough board (or one with cleats) that is long enough to act as
a ramp to the top. The board should lean no steeper than a 45 degree angle.
The board should be slowly and carefully placed by approaching the well low enough to be
out of sight of the skunk. If possible, a second person with a vantage point high
enough to see the skunk can warn of any signs of its becoming agitated, indicated by the
skunk raising its tail or stamping its front feet. If this happens, stop and rethink
your strategy. Another method of placing the board is to tie it to the end of a long
pole and lower it by holding the opposite end of the pole. Once the board is placed,
keep people and pets away from the area until nightfall when the skunk should leave on its
own. To prevent this situation from reoccurring, place exit ramps or tight-fitting
covers at each window well.
Removing Skunk Odor
On Pets: Skunk odor may be neutralized with liberal amounts of vinegar or tomato
juice. This will make the odor tolerable. Only time will eliminate it.
On Clothes: Combine 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide with l/4 cup of baking soda
and 1 teaspoon liquid soap (laundry or dishwashing soap).
On Inanimate Objects: Chlorine bleach, ammonia or commercial products containing
neutroleum alpha may be used.
On People: Carbolic soap and water are safe to use on skin. Liberal flushing
with cold water will ease the discomfort of skunk spray in the eyes.
Each year untold numbers of skunks are killed because someone
is afraid of getting sprayed; yet those who are familiar with skunks know that it takes a
lot to get sprayed. Hopefully, through education people will begin to recognize and
understand the role that these mild animals have to play and the benefits of tolerating
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