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Love is in the Air

What’s the first word that come to mind when you hear the word “skunk”? Peace Loving? I didn’t think so but maybe you should!


I’ve had several anxiety induced calls this already about SKUNKS in backyards which prompted me to provide some possibly surprising facts about the little stinkers!


Skunks can actually help the backyard gardener by eating grubs and other unwanted insects that dwell in the ground. No need to worry about sharing the gardening gloves with the little black & whites though unless you garden at night as skunks prefer to search for food after dark. Their diet also consists of plants, fruit, eggs, and small reptiles, fish and mammals. Their poor eyesight might be partially to blame for their short life span of 2-4 years in the wild. If you see one out during the day it’s likely to be a mother taking advantage of her napping babies so she can forage for her own food.

There are 4 species of skunks in N. America, the most common being the Striped Skunk. The other 3 varieties are the Hooded Skunk, the Eastern Spotted Skunk (only one capable of climbing trees) and the largest, being the Hog-nosed skunk who can grow to nearly 3’ long.


Now let’s address the elephant in the skunk room - yes, that fragrance which sticks to its reputation much like it might have glued itself to your dog’s fur! Skunks are, in fact, non aggressive opportunistic animals whose best line of defense just happens to be a pungent spray from their anal sacs that allows adult skunks to have little fear of other animals. When babies are about 8 days old they can emit a musky odor but not enough to defend themselves until they are about a month old.


While we can’t offer tips for avoidance to our pets, I can offer them to you in hopes you can convince your dog or cat that skunks are not suitable playmates! Skunks spray when they feel threatened or cornered. This is where your dog’s exuberance is likely to get him into trouble. So don’t be a dog! If you have to be near the skunk act calm with non threatening body language: arms down to your sides, no jerky awkward motion directed at the animal and as much as you may feel the urge, no screaming or yelling.

Skunks will offer warning signs to their potential victim which may include, hissing, growling, and almost always, a stomping of the front feet. By the last two steps you better have run for the hills because when he turns his head away from you and that tail goes up you have little time for escape and their aim is extremely accurate! Their spray can travel up to 10 feet !!! And the smell can be detected up to 3.5 miles downwind.

Although they generally don’t have to, they can spray in succession up to 6 times. After a full discharge of the scent glands it can take up to 10 days to resupply.


February is the onset of breeding season and you may start to notice an increase in that highly recognizable musk odor. Female skunks are shunning males they don’t want to mate with and males are fighting for females who do. This stressful activity causes some musk to be deposited.


If you’re looking to rid your property of unwanted skunks, here are some win-win suggestions:

  • Skunks, like many wildlife animals, are opportunistic animals, looking for food and shelter. If neither are available they will move on. Remove outdoor foods at night and seal up trash cans. Close off openings that lead under your deck or foundation.

  • If there are babies (called “kits”) living with mom under your deck, it’s best to leave them alone. Once old enough they will move on. Their eyes open at about 3 weeks and they’re weaned by 2 months. By 10 - 12 months they are old enough to have their own kits.

  • They are not fond of bright lights or certain smells like ammonia or used cat litter which will often convince them to move on if placed at the door to their habitat.

I have received many frantic calls from people attempting to trap feral cats and instead wind up with Pepe’ La Pew in the closed trap. If you find yourself in this stinkin’ predicament, don’t panic. Find an old large towel, spread, sheet, etc that will cover the entire cage. Calmly and quietly walk up to the cage and place the fabric over it and walk away for about 10 minutes (as weather permits). Then you can quietly pick up the cage.


See it thru their eyes.

Barb

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