The skunk is a member of the weasel family and there are four species in North America. The four species are the striped skunk, by far the most common, the hooded skunk, the spotted skunk and the hog-nosed skunk.
The striped skunk is characterized by the lateral white stripes down its back with jet black fur. The body of the skunk is about the size of an ordinary house cat with short stocky legs and large feet. It has very well developed claws that enable it to be very good at digging. The major characteristic of skunks is the ability to discharge terrible smelling musk from the anal glands, and they can discharge several times not just one. The range of the striped skunk is all of the U.S. including the northern most part of Mexico.
Adult skunks breed in late February and gestation lasts between 7 to 10 weeks in length and there is only one litter per year. Litters usually consist of 4-6 young but the range is 2 to 16. The young skunks will stay with the female until fall. Skunks can live 10 years but most only survive for 3 years in the wild. The normal range for a skunk is ½ to 2 miles in diameter but a male may travel 4-5 miles.
Skunks move about and feed at night and are rather slow-moving and deliberate. They really have no fear of other animals including humans because of their great ability to defend themselves. This is certainly why they are moving into cities as their populations increase.
Skunks eat plant and animal foods in about equal amounts during fall and winter. They eat considerably more animal matter during spring and summer when insects, their preferred food, are more available. Field and house mice are regular and important items in the skunk diet which explains why they move into crawl spaces, garages, shops, etc. in winter.
Skunks are very adept at burrowing. They burrow under porches, houses, foundations and can burrow for many feet before emerging. One morning I was sitting on my back porch and heard some sort of scratching sound. After a few minutes I got up and walked out into the yard to look under the porch when I stepped off into the skunk burrow and almost fell on top of the skunk. Luckily both of us were to scared to do anything, he ran one direction and I ran the other.
The only methods for control of skunks is exclusion and/or trapping. It is very good idea to completely seal off all entrances underneath your house. Let me back up and say that first you should put out mouse poison under your house and then seal off the foundation. Any places that a skunk could dig under lay chicken wire on the ground to stop the digging. Grass will grow right through the wire but the skunk cant dig. Properly dispose of garbage or other food. Don’t leave bagged garbage in a garage, or by a back door, put it in a covered trash can well away from the house. Clean up your yard, removing old stacks of lumber, fence posts, etc. to remove hiding places and discourage skunks.
Skunks can be caught in live traps very successfully. Place a live trap near the den entrance and put canned fish flavored food in the trap to lure the skunk in. Once the trap is set, cover it with a tarp to create a dark, secure environment for the skunk. This tarp is very important because if you keep the skunk covered completely you can then move the trap away from your property without getting sprayed. What you do with the skunk is your business, the striped skunk is not a protected species.
Lastly, the skunk is a carrier of rabies which is the primary reason we are concerned about exposures to rabid skunks in the city. Everyone needs to first have their pets vaccinated for rabies. Rabid skunks will be out in the daytime which is not normal, they will be aggressive and they will approach a person without hesitation. Because of this everyone needs to be very careful and by all means warn your children about the problem.
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- Bob Whitney
- As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.