Skunks have to be one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. They smell awful yet are so beneficial to our yards. Plus they are so darn cute. Perhaps we should learn more about these backyard wonders.
Since they are nocturnal (coming out at night), you will rarely see one during the day. But they live all over North and South America.
A Defense Mechanism
When you smell a skunk, you know it! The skunk sprays musk from 2 anal glands on its butt. And even baby skunks can produce a foul smell before their eyes are open. Now that is cool.
Before a skunk sprays, it gives you fair warning. Stomping its feet on the ground and hissing is meant to deter you from coming closer. Spotted skunks even do a handstand trying to get your attention. If you see stomping, hissing or a handstand, move away from the skunk or else…
And the last thing the skunk wants to do is spray you. Once they use all their spray, they are completely defenseless. For up to 10 days! Why? Because it takes that long for their body to make more. Not good for the skunk.
On the rare occasion you or your dog gets sprayed, use hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to get rid of the smell. Dousing yourself in tomato juice is just an old myth and will not do much except make you smell like tomatoes.
Cool Facts About Skunks
Skunks don’t wander far from where they were born, generally less than 2 miles. They need water so look for them around ponds or other water sources at night.
And if you see a skunk in a tree, how do you know what kind it is? Well, it will be an Eastern spotted skunk since only they can climb.
The stripes on the skunk are meant to deter predators. You only need to tangle with a skunk once, to remember exactly what they look like with their bold black and white markings.
But there seems to be a question on how many species of skunk exist? Wikipedia says 10, Britannica says 11 and Terminex (an interesting source) says 12. I’m not sure why we don’t seem to know how many skunk species exist, but apparently, we don’t!
The Biggest Threat to Skunks?
With terrible eyesight, they don’t see fast-moving vehicles very well. Our cars and trucks are deadly to them when they are crossing the road.
And some birds of prey, like the Great Horned Owl, don’t smell very well and would love to have a skunk for dinner.
The other big threat is our misunderstanding of them. Since skunks do carry rabies, we often fear them. However, we can not find a single death ever caused by contracting rabies from a skunk. Ever.
Why Are Skunks Important?
By eating insects, moles and grubs that are eating your prized plants, they are great pest control for your yard. And they are particularly fond of Japanese beetles, cutworms and hornworms, all of which damage vegetables and flowers.
Of course, they can dig holes looking for those moles and grubs. Just consider the holes as free aeration of your soil.
They also eat small rodents helping keep the mice population in check. And since they are immune to snake venom, they will eat poisonous snakes. What is not to love!
How Can You Help?
With an average life span of only 2-4 years in the wild, we can help them by slowing our cars down, especially at twilight and at night.
Spread the word of the coolness and importance of these animals. Especially the Eastern spotted skunk which is considered vulnerable. Post pictures and articles (like this one!) on social media.
And because of their limited eyesight, they can fall into uncovered window wells or empty pools. Help them by covering the holes or if you see a skunk in distress, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. In Western North Carolina call Appalachian Wildlife Refuge for help.
How to Stop Skunks From Digging Up Lawn. A fun article about what to do if skunks are digging up your garden.
10 Pungent Facts about Skunks. Find out more cool facts about skunks including their spray is flammable!
Research who is your local wildlife rehabilitator in case you find an injured skunk (or any other animal). Our local one, which we support, is Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Learn more about their work in Organizations We Trust.