“Do you smell that?” One whiff and your alarm bells start ringing – skunk! Like all skunks, our two local species, Striped and Spotted, are equipped with an unforgettable sulphuric spray. While we may not appreciate their smell, skunks have plenty of likeable qualities. Keep reading to learn more about our odiferous neighbors.
- Skunks are omnivorous. Their diet varies with the season – insects and bugs during the spring and summer, small animals in the fall and winter – and the occasional berry or leaf. Like most urban wildlife, they’re opportunistic and will take a quick snack from the garbage can, pet food bowl or garden.
- Their spray isn’t a weapon, it’s a warning. Spraying is about defense, not offense. The organic sulphur compound ejected from two small glands (known as a musk) tells potential predators that they taste bad, don’t waste your time.
- It takes 10 to 12 days to replenish their stinky supply. Their spray supply isn’t endless. It can take nearly two weeks to produce enough for a few more shots.
Why do we need them?
Valuable garden allies, these natural pest control heroes feast on crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, small rodents and moles. Should the insects feasting in your garden seemingly disappear overnight, you might have a skunk to thank.
Skunks are passive, shy animals, who would rather flee than fight. Their bold white stripes or spots are all the warning most animals need. When their markings don’t get the message across, skunks give additional warnings with agitated foot stamping, hissing and growling. If the aggressor continues, the skunk will form his body into a “U” shape with both head and tail aimed at the attacker.
Skunks spray their musk only as a last resort and are impressively accurate up to about 10 feet. Spray that enters the eyes causes temporary blindness. Combined with the lingering malodor, it’s likely their attacker learned a lesson it won’t soon forget.
A nosy family dog is a common spray victim. If yours takes a hit, mix up the following remedy. Wear rubber gloves and do NOT get the solution in the dog’s eyes. Also, do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as it is not stable. If your dog has been sprayed in the eyes, call your veterinarian for appropriate care.
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at a pharmacy)
¼ cup baking soda
1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid soap
Rub the mixture all over and scrub deep to neutralize the odor. Leave it on until the smell abates – but no longer, peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse thoroughly.
Avoid A Conflict
It’s more likely that you’ll smell a skunk rather than see one. A persistent, faint musky smell under a structure or woodpile may suggest a skunk has taken up residence. During breeding season, males can spray frequently when fighting over females.
Deter skunks from your yard:
- Keep a tight lid on garbage cans or pull them inside.
- Remove pet food before nightfall.
- Remove boards or debris where skunks may hide.
- Close off openings under decks, patios, or sheds. Use ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, burying the wire at least 6 inches to prevent skunks from digging underneath.
- If you think a skunk has already taken up residence, it’s essential to be sure the animal (and any young) have left the den before blocking the entrance.
If you come upon a skunk, simply move away slowly and quietly.
Threat of Rabies
Skunks are one of four animals (including the fox, raccoon, and bat) considered primary carriers of the rabies virus and is classified as a rabies vector species.
Though mostly active at night, skunks sometimes look for food during the day, particularly in the spring when they have young to feed. Don’t be concerned if you see a skunk in the daytime unless they also show abnormal behaviors, such as:
- Limb paralysis
- Unprovoked aggression
- Disorientation or staggering
- Uncharacteristic tameness
If you witness any of these signs, don’t approach the skunk. For assistance, call the Montgomery County Animal Control Authority at 936-442-7738, or Harris County Veterinary Public Health at 281-999-3191.
Under state law, a person may trap a fur-bearing animal at any time if it is causing damage or creating a nuisance. If you live trap a skunk, you must notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before relocating the animal. A permit must be obtained and permission granted from the property owner where you plan to release the live animal. Always contact a professional wildlife specialist if unable to safely remove wildlife on your own.
Yes, skunks are a bit smelly. But, these impressive animals are important members of our ecosystem. Most of the time, skunks simply pass through your yard at night and you’ll never encounter them. Make the compassionate choice to live in harmony with nature. After all, they’ve learned to live with us.