Damage Prevention and Control Methods
- Buildings: close cellar and outside basement doors
- Seal and cover all openings including window wells and pits
- Removal of garbage, debris, and lumber piles
The skunk, a member of the weasel family, is represented by four species in North America. The skunk has short, stocky legs and proportionately large feet equipped with well-developed claws that enable it to be very adept at digging.
The striped skunk is characterized by prominent, lateral white stripes that run down its back. Its fur is otherwise jet black. Striped skunks are the most abundant of the four species. The body of the striped skunk is about the size of an ordinary house cat. Skunks have the ability to discharge nauseating musk from the anal glands and are capable of several discharges, not just one
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Adult skunks begin breeding in late February. Gestation usually lasts 7 to 10 weeks. There is usually only 1 litter annually. Litters commonly consist of 4 to 6 young, but may have from 2 to 16. The young stay with the female until fall. The age potential for a skunk is about 10 years, but few live beyond 3 years in the wild.
Skunks are dormant for about a month during the coldest part of winter. They may den together in winter for warmth, but generally are not sociable. They are nocturnal in habit, rather slow-moving and deliberate, and have great confidence in defending themselves against other animals.
Skunks inhabit clearings, pastures, and open lands bordering forests. On prairies, skunks seek cover in the thickets and timber fringes along streams. They establish dens in hollow logs or may climb trees and use hollow limbs.
Skunks eat plants 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. Grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets are the adult insects most often taken. Field and house mice are regular and important items in the skunk diet, particularly in winter. Rats, cottontail rabbits, and other small mammals are taken when other food is scarce.
Damage and Damage Identification
Skunks become a nuisance when their burrowing and feeding habits conflict with humans. They may burrow under porches or buildings by entering foundation openings. Garbage or refuse left outdoors may be disturbed by skunks. Skunks may damage beehives by attempting to feed on bees. Occasionally, they feed on corn, eating only the lower ears. Skunks dig holes in lawns, golf courses, and gardens to search for insect grubs found in the soil. Digging normally appears as small, 3 to 4 inch cone-shaped holes or patches of upturned earth.
Skunks occasionally kill poultry and eat eggs. They normally do not climb fences to get to poultry. If skunks gain access, they will normally feed on the eggs and occasionally kill one or two fowl. Eggs usually are opened on one end with the edges crushed inward.
Both the hind and forefeet of skunks have five toes. In some cases, the fifth toe may not be obvious. Claw marks are usually visible, but the heels of the forefeet normally are not. The hindfeet tracks are approximately 2 1/2 inches long. Skunk droppings can often be identified by the undigested insect parts they contain.
Odor is not always a reliable indicator of the presence or absence of skunks. Sometimes dogs, cats, or other animals that have been sprayed by skunks move under houses and make owners mistakenly think skunks are present.
Rabies may be carried by skunks on occasion. Skunks are the primary carriers of rabies in the Midwest. When rabies outbreaks occur, the ease with which rabid animals can be contracted increases. Therefore, rabid skunks are prime vectors for the spread of the virus. Avoid overly aggressive skunks that approach without hesitation. Any skunk showing abnormal behavior, such as daytime activity, may be rabid and should be treated with caution.
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The above information was adapted from PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission of the editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee). It is will great gratitude and appreciation that we are able to pass along this useful information.
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