Skunks generally pose little danger as they are non-aggressive and highly beneficial animals. Skunks, however, can carry a variety of diseases including histeriosis, distemper & rabies.
Skunks become a nuisance when they spray pets or property, burrow under porches, decks or garages, and/or damage lawns and golf courses while foraging for insects, grubs, seeds etc. Skunks have been known to occasionally prey on poultry and their eggs.
Known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong unpleasant smell, skunks are recognizable by the prominent, lateral white stripes that run down their back and tail.
The striped skunk has a thick black coat with very distinct white stripping down its back. The stripe starts at its head and breaks into 2 stripes down its back. The hair on the skunk's tail is longer and a mix of black & white hairs.
Skunks have a stout body with a small, triangular shaped head. Skunks have short, stocky legs with long, straight claws used for digging.
Skunks move slowly & deliberately and rely on their scent defense vs their speed to escape predators.
Skunks will den in clearings, pastures, at the edges of streams or in thickets. Skunks will also den in hollow logs & tree limbs. Skunks will often take over abandoned dens of groundhogs, foxes and other small animals. In urban areas skunks like to den under porches, decks, sheds, garages etc.
A skunk will normally only travel 2-5 km from its den. A male skunk may travel as much as 8 km a day during the breeding season.
The striped skunk can be found throughout most of North America.
Skunks will have 1 litter per year with 2-16 young (usually only 4-6 young). Breeding typically occurs in late February or March with young born in May or June.
Kits are weaned at 6-7 weeks but stay with the female until the fall. While adult skunks are most active at dawn & dusk, kits will often roam their territory in the mid-afternoon.
Skunks do not hibernate; they become inactive for about a month during the coldest part of the winter.
Skunks can live for up to 10 years, however, they normally don't live much longer than three years in the wild.
If I see a skunk during the day, does that mean it has rabies?
Not necessarily. Young kits often leave the den mid-afternoon to explore & play in their territories. Sometimes adult skunks may be disturbed from their dens or may be up to take advantage of a food source. Skunks are also more likely to be seen foraging during the day if there is high competition from other nocturnal animals.
If you do see a skunk active during the day, acting aggressive or exhibiting abnormal behaviour please contact your local public health office.
What kind of damage will skunks do?
Skunks in urban environments burrow beneath porches or buildings, usually through existing openings, to find shelter. They will also dig holes in lawns, golf courses and gardens in search for grubs.
Skunks will disturb garbage cans and snack on their contents, and feed on garden vegetables, particularly the lower ears of corn. Skunks have been known to enter poultry houses, destroy and feed on eggs, and occasionally kill chickens.
More than anything, though, skunks are known to create a very obnoxious odor when they discharge, or spray, a particularly nauseating musk from their anal glands.
When will skunks spray?
Skunks will spray when they are alarmed or distressed. This usually occurs during conflicts with other animals, such as your pet dog or cat. They are capable of several discharges.
If I smell a skunk, does that mean a skunk is nearby?
No. Odor is not a reliable indicator of their presence. Their musk is released when they are hit by cars and the smell can carry for several kilometers.
Also, a dog or cat which has been sprayed may be mistakenly identified, through smell, as a skunk.
How can I prevent skunks from establishing themselves on my property?
Skunks can be deterred from digging beneath structures by filling in all foundation openings with wire screening, concrete or sheet metal.
They can be kept off of your property by burying fencing between 0.4 and 0.6 m (16 and 24 in.) in the soil in order to prevent access by digging.
Sanitation is very important. Keeping your property free from lumber, garbage and other debris will discourage their presence. Garbage cans and composters should be equipped with right-fitting lids and should be secured against capsizing.
If a skunk enters a building on your property, keep all entrances closed except one main door and the skunk will normally leave on its own.
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