Photo by: Dave Herr, USDA Forest Service
Skunks are primarily nocturnal mammals, preferring to hunt at night for grubs, insects, small rodents, carrion, fruit, berries, unripened corn, mushrooms and other food items. In urban areas, they feed on pet food, garbage, fruit that has fallen from trees, and garden vegetables. Skunks like poultry and eggs and, when circumstances permit, raid chicken houses and poultry yards. Skunks use any sheltered place as a den including abandoned burrows, predator dens, areas under houses, unused buildings, barns and even, on rare occasions, attics of buildings.
Skunks are considered by many people to be odorous and obnoxious pests that should be avoided at all costs and even eliminated on sight. However, these animals generally are beneficial because they help control grubs, insects and rodents. They range throughout the United States and are considered important furbearers in many states.
Skunks are a primary source of rabies in many areas of the United States. Human and domestic pet contact with skunks should be avoided. If it is necessary to handle a skunk, take all precautions to keep from being bitten or scratched. Several other types of diseases and parasites affect skunks such as distemper, mange, fleas, ticks, lice, roundworms and tapeworms.
Skunks become a problem when their feeding and burrowing activities conflict with man's interests. In urban areas, skunks may damage gardens and lawns while hunting for insects and worms, as well as expose humans and pets to several transmittable diseases and parasites. In rural areas, skunks can cause losses to poultry operations, expose livestock to disease, and occasionally cause damage to crops. Skunks are usually considered a nuisance because of their odor. All skunks have the ability to discharge a nauseating, oily musk from their anal glands. They can discharge their musk several times with accuracy to about 10 feet. Pets often are sprayed when they confront skunks. When skunks take shelter under buildings, their odor can make them an intolerable nuisance.
Biology and Reproduction
Because skunks can cause damage and are an important vector of disease, it is often necessary to control individual members of a population when they are in conflict with man's health and economic interests. The most effective control programs will include both environmental and mechanical control measures.
When skunks are living or rearing young under buildings, attempts to destroy them may result in the release of their noxious scent. Before attempting removal, sprinkle a liberal amount of flour or a similar substance in and around the entrance. After dark, check for tracks to determine which openings they used as exits and the number of skunks involved. When the animals have left, close all possible entrances with sheet metal or hardware cloth to avoid reentry. Fencing usually keeps skunks out of the yard; however, they will sometimes dig under. To prevent burrowing beneath a fence or other structure (sheds, decks, etc.), attach a 3-foot wide heavy gauge wire mesh screen to the bottom of the fence so it extends >24 inches outward. Secure the screen to the ground with garden staples and backfill over the mesh with rock mulch.
Remove unused pet food and water bowls at night and keep lids on trash cans to aid in discouraging skunks. Since skunks prey on the rodents that are attracted to scattered bird seed, take bird feeders in at night or attach a catch-screen to the bottom of the feeder.
In urban areas, live trapping with baited box or cage traps is the most desirable method. Cage traps are available from feed or hardware stores. Almost any type of food can be used as bait to catch skunks, although there is less chance of catching a small dog or cat if fruits such as apples, pears or bananas are used. Skunks rarely release their scent in darkened areas such as live traps that have been carefully covered with plywood or burlap. Leave the door uncovered to identify the animal before the trap is moved. Always approach a trap slowly and quietly to prevent upsetting a trapped skunk. Shooting and trapping, including the use of live traps and leg hold traps, are some methods that can be used in rural areas.
A skunk's odor on pets, clothing, under buildings, etc., may be neutralized by the liberal application of a veterinary use deodorizer. Vinegar, tomato juice, or a weak solution of household ammonia can help remove the odor from clothing. Use lime to deodorize the soil. A few drops of oil of wintergreen on pieces of corrugated cardboard or cotton balls also helps mask the offensive odor. A mixture of 32 ounces (1 quart) of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap (ex. Dawn dish detergent, etc.) will neutralize scent when applied to the source of the odor.
Skunks are classified as furbearers in Indiana. Under state law, landowners or their tenants may take furbearing animals at any time if they are causing damage. They can also be taken during the legal hunting and trapping season with the proper license. Other furbearers include raccoon, beaver, mink, weasel, opossum, muskrat, fox and coyote. Trapped furbearers must be relocated within the county of capture or euthanized. Permission from the property owner must be obtained prior to releasing an animal on their property. Homeowners who have trapped and relocated/euthanized raccoons must report it to IDNR within 72 hours of their catch.
Individuals with nuisance wild animal control permits can assist homeowners with nuisance skunks. The names of licensed nuisance wild animal control operators and additional information can be obtained from the Indiana Wildlife Conflicts Information Hotline at 1-800-893-4116.
The information given herein is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by State or Federal Agencies is implied. This program serves people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. The Wildlife Conflicts Information Hotline is a cooperative program of the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - Wildlife Services, Indiana Department of Natural Resources-Division of Fish & Wildlife, and Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.