Skunk Sense

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 8, 2010

two locations do not add to the skunk’s popularity, as their odor sometimes permeates the structure around them.

Although they do not hibernate, skunks acquire a layer of fat in the fall and spend more time in their dens as the weather grows colder. When temperatures near freezing, they may sleep for extended periods, only emerging to hunt during periods of warmer weather or in protected locations such as barns. Several skunks may den together during these colder months.

Clean-Up Crew

Skunks are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat just about anything. They’ll consume a variety of plants and animals during the fall and winter, including carrion, but depend on insects in the summer. Grasshoppers, beetles and crickets are prime summer snacks, but white grubs, cutworms, tobacco worms and other insect larvae are also common foods. They will happily dig insect pests out of your lawn as well, but they might not be tidy about it.

Mice, rats, moles, shrews, ground squirrels, young rabbits, chipmunks, lizards, salamanders, frogs, earthworms, turtle eggs and the eggs of ground-nesting birds also feature on skunk menus.

Skunks leave their dens in the late afternoon or early evening and forage most of the night.

Looking for Love

In late winter, sightings of skunks (and skunk remains) suddenly increase on the roadways. This is because skunk breeding season begins in February and males range widely, often leaving their territories in search of a mate.

The gestation period is seven to eight weeks, with females producing one litter each year. Litters of two to 16 young have been recorded, but the average size is four to six. Young skunks are called kits.

The female raises kits alone. They are born blind and without fur, and they will suckle for six to eight weeks, until they can forage for themselves. They will stay with their mother until fall.

Eyes on the Sky

Few creatures are willing to take a skunk for a meal—except those with a nonexistent or reduced sense of smell. As with most birds, great horned owls do not have a sense of smell, and they are the skunk’s primary predator. Other avian predators may include hawks and eagles.

There is some evidence that coyotes, badgers, foxes and bobcats will also prey on skunks, but most of this information comes from researching the stomach contents of these animals. Therefore it is unknown whether the skunks were killed or eaten as carrion.

Skunk meat untainted with musk is good and tender eating, according to some people. However, most humans only take skunks accidentally, with their vehicles, leaving them on the roadways for more adventurous species to feast upon.

What a Nuisance

Despite being effective mousers, cleaning up carrion and helping to keep insect pests in check, skunks do occasionally become a nuisance. They can damage lawns and gardens in search of food, raid chicken coops and domestic animals’ food, tunnel under porches and buildings, and of course, cause a stink around homes. They might also establish their dens in places impossible to avoid for family and pets.

While most skunks are easily avoided and should be considered an asset to farms and neighborhoods, some precautions and management might be necessary.

The best methods for discouraging skunks from digging around and under structures include keeping the areas free of debris and brush piles and sealing openings in the foundations of houses and outbuildings. Only seal holes after making certain that no skunks remain under your foundation or porch. Not only is it cruel to starve the trapped animals, but they will release their scent when they die, and it will permeate the house.

Reducing skunks’ access to food sources, as well as denning sites, will make your property less appealing. Picking up pet food at night, fencing chicken coops and collecting eggs daily, and securing your trash will encourage skunks to move on. For more tips on skunk-proofing your property, or how to remove existing populations, visit our Web site, www.MissouriConservation.org, and type “skunk” in the search box. Or, call your regional Conservation Office.

Skunk Tonic

For use on people, clothing and pets.

Mix together:

1 quart of hydrogen peroxide

1/4 cup baking soda

1 teaspoon liquid laundry soap or dishwashing detergent

The first two ingredients form an alkaline peroxide that chemically changes the skunk essence into sulfonic acid, an odorless chemical. The soap breaks down the oily skunk essence and makes it more susceptible to the other chemicals.

Chemicals in this formula are harmless, but try this solution at your own risk. To be safe, keep the formula away from the eyes, nose and mouth of people and pets.

Do not store this mixture or put it in a closed container. When kept in a warm place, the mixture may expand and burst the container.

This recipe and other tips can be found listed below.

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