Skunks are members of the weasel family and are mostly nocturnal animals, but they are fast adapting to living right alongside humans and even adopting a more daytime-active life to make use of food and other resources found in human-habited areas. Because of this, they are becoming a big pest problem across North America.
Skunks are easy to spot with their infamous black markings with white stripe(s). It is thought that the stripes are designed to lead the eyes of a predator to the most dangerous part of the animal: the rear end. It is from the rear end that the vile skunk spray is released.
The American hog-nosed skunks is the largest skunk species, with an impressive length of almost 3 feet, but this is a species more commonly found in Mexico, Texas and regions close to those.
The striped skunk, on the other hand, is found across most of the United States. With 13 different subspecies, sizes can vary, but they normally weigh between 5 to 13 pounds (adults), with a maximum length of 2.5 feet.
If a skunk were to be kept in captivity, with conditions that are perfect for that animal, it can live for up to 8 or 10 years. ‘Wild' life is rarely perfect for skunks and similar animals, however, so the lifespan of a wild skunk is generally considered to be around 2 to 3 years.
Skunks will come together to start mating in the early spring — around February, and it is thought to last for a couple of months, until March and early April. Females are pregnant for 8-10 weeks and give birth to a litter of between 1 and 15 young skunks, also known as kittens. Older females usually start mating earlier on in the year and they usually have slightly larger sized litters, too.
At around 6 weeks of age, skunks will start leaving the nest under the protection of their mothers. A few weeks after that (8-10 weeks), the kittens are fully weaned. By the time fall hits, the young are ready to start life on their own.
Different species of skunk will prefer different types of locations, but skunks generally enjoy areas that have plenty of trees, such as forests and woods, often around the outskirts of those areas. You can also find skunks in areas of desert, however, as well as grasslands.
Ground coverage is preferred to offer security, and skunks create dens around or underneath structures, under fallen trees, in tree hollows, or under/around piles of rocks or wood.
It is common to find skunks in basements, sheds, garages, other outbuildings, beneath decking or porches, and even beneath sidewalks and concreted areas. If the den's entrance can be protected by something (tall grasses, shrubs, concrete, etc.), the skunk will feel relatively safe there.
Skunks eat a mixture of both plant-based material and animal-based material, making them omnivorous. As well as enjoying various flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, many of which you'll find in your own back yard, they also enjoy young or small rats and mice, fish, birds, bird eggs, various insects and grubs, reptiles, larvae, worms, and small mammals. They will also eat virtually everything you might throw out in the trash, as well as pet food and livestock feed.
According to the Humane Society, one of the biggest problems with skunks is rabies; they are one of four animals thought to be one of the main carriers for the virus in the United States. Other potentially deadly diseases have also been linked to skunks in one form or another, including tularemia, canine distemper, listeriosis, leptospirosis, canine hepatitis, Q-fever, and salmonellosis. Alongside these, there are external parasites, such as mites, fleas, lice, and ticks.
Aside from disease, skunks are also known to cause problems in terms of damage and destruction of property. When digging around in soft, post-rained-on lawns for grubs and insects to eat, the animal can make quite a mess and it is not unknown for those holes to cause other issues, especially with vulnerable humans (including children), livestock, or machinery.
And, as always, there is a very serious threat of being sprayed with skunk spray.
Keeping all food sources tightly locked away is a good step to take to remove all unwanted nuisance wildlife from your property. You will also want to make sure that any potential den sites are either closed up completely, or opened up completely. Skunks need safety and shelter, so opening up is sometimes a better option than sealing up.
Keeping your yard or property clean and tidy is another great step to prevent skunks from causing problems. Skunks need protection, such as ground coverage, to allow them to move safely and prevent predatory attack.
We do not recommend using repellents and deterrents as a form of skunk or nuisance wildlife control. Without other additional approaches, your efforts will be futile.
The professionals will usually remove skunks using a trap-and-release (or euthanasia) approach, with traps that are specifically built to contain the animal AND it's vile-smelling spray. In some situations, however, trapping is not appropriate or safe. In such cases, physical removal may be required (skunks in wall cavities, for example).
Exclusion approaches are another effective technique when circumstances permit them to be used. Unfortunately, exclusion devices are not suitable for a female skunk with kittens. It is likely that the kittens will be trapped inside the building without the care of their mother, and in turn, will die.
1 - The spray of a skunk can reach more than 15 feet, and as well as smelling really badly, it also the potential to cause serious (though usually temporary) discomfort for the eyes, throat, and respiratory system.
2 - Skunks do not hibernate during the winter. They do slow down in terms of activity, though. They also sleep a lot more than they would during the warmer months.
3 - Skunks will warn humans and other predators of their spray, before they spray it. They do this by performing a dance, of sorts, that involves stamping of the feet, puffing up of the tail, making loud vocal calls, and turning around to point their rear end at the threat.
To learn more about skunks, see: