Skunks are medium-sized, omnivorous, primarily nocturnal mammals of the order Carnivora and the family Mephitidae. The only skunk found in Oregon and Washington is the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis. That’s also the most common skunk in North America. It’s sometimes referred to as a “polecat.”
Skunks are disliked primarily because of their unusual defense system: skunks posses anal scent glands that are capable of firing a foul-smelling liquid, with impressive accuracy, as far as 15 feet.
That might not seem like much until you consider that skunks have poor vision and can only see clearly to about ten feet. But they have excellent senses of scent and hearing, and are able to spray aggressors who are beyond their field of good vision.
Most other woodland mammals, and even most birds of prey (the one exception being the great horned owl) go out of their way to avoid skunks. Young animals, including predator species, have been observed being warned away from skunks by their parents. It’s a lesson that is passed down through generations of animals in much the same way that young animals are taught to fear humans.
Once in a while, however, a young animal misses that day of training, and they must learn the lesson for themselves. It’s a tough lesson that is not soon forgotten. Pet dogs are the animals that most commonly try to attack skunks. Unless they’re exceptionally dumb, they rarely try it a second time.
In Defense of Skunks
All that having been said, you might be thinking that skunks go around just itching to spray someone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The truth is that skunks are actually fairly passive animals. They can even become almost friendly if they become accustomed to you, and you’ve given them no reason to believe that you’re a threat. One way that this sometimes happens is if you feed your pets outside. A skunk may begin to associate you with the food. Some folks have even found skunks patiently waiting for them to set the pet food out. Apparently the skunks start thinking that you’re feeding them.
Another truth about skunks is that they hate spraying. There are several reasons for this. One is that they apparently don’t like the smell, or possibly it irritates them, because they try to wipe it off after they spray. The second reason is that skunks can only carry enough stinky stuff for four to six sprays, and it can take almost two weeks for them to make more, during which time they will be more vulnerable.
Because of this reluctance to spray, skunks really try to give every possible warning before they do it. At a minimum, they’ll usually hiss, stamp their feet, and raise their rear ends before they resort to chemical warfare. Only if the aggressor is silly enough to have not backed off after such generous warnings will the skunk raise its tail, take aim, and spray.
Another nice thing about skunks is that they eat small rodents, insects, and grubs. Organic gardeners like having them around for that reason. The small animals that skunks eat are far more destructive to crops than are the skunks themselves.
When is Skunk Trapping and Removal Necessary?
Unfortunately, there are times when skunks simply have to be removed from a property. Most often this is because they got into a house, basement, crawl space, shed, or other place where humans live or work. Very often, the skunk itself doesn’t even want to be there. It somehow got in, but it can’t get out.
Another thing that happens sometimes is that a skunk becomes too comfortable on a property because it believes that the homeowner is feeding it. Sometimes this is actually true, for example, when people intentionally toss bits of meat and fruit to skunks. Other times it’s accidental, as may occur when you feed your pets outside, or even if you put your garbage out every day. Skunks quickly become accepting of humans whom they associate with food.
The problem is that a skunk is still a skunk, and some day you may happen to startle it, or even step on it. If that happens, the chances are that it will be a very memorable day for you. Not a pleasant one, but memorable nonetheless.
Another problem is that like most carnivores, skunks are susceptible to rabies and distemper. In the late stages of rabies, skunks may become lethargic, and compassionate humans may try to “help” them. This is when the vast majority of skunk bites happen. Skunks almost never bite humans unless they are rabid; and most often, it happens because the human tried to help the sick skunk.
Long story short, when skunks get into a home or building, or when they become a bit too comfortable around humans, they need to be removed. That’s when you call us. We have the knowledge of wildlife biology needed to quickly and humanely trap and remove skunks, as well as to seal them out of buildings when necessary.
Preventing Skunk Problems
The best way to reduce the chances of having a skunk problem are to make your property less attractive to skunks. For example:
- If you feed your pets outside, take the food bowl back inside as soon as your pet has finished eating.
- Use animal-resistant trash receptacles.
- Keep your lawn well-mowed. Consider treating it to kill insects and grubs.
- Avoid attracting rodents to your property. For example, bird seeders often spill seed on the ground, which can attract rats, mice, and other rodents; and rodents attract skunks.
- Make sure that your crawl space, basement, the area under your porch, and other places where skunks might want to den are properly animal-proofed. Or better yet, just call us instead. We’re good at that.