No small creature has a defense mechanism as potent as a skunk! These small mammals in the Mephitidae family are often smelled before they are seen.
The most common variety, the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), makes its home from central Canada throughout the U.S. down to northern Mexico. Skunks are found in many places, but where do these nocturnal animals prefer to nest and build their dens?
Where Do Skunks Like to Make Their Dens?
“Striped skunks will den under decks and in hollowed logs,” Lori Swanson, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, NJ, told A-Z Animals.
And if the babies are old enough to explore, that can be a good tip-off as to where a skunk is nesting.
“During the summer months,” says Swanson, “babies may be seen playing together outside of the den without their mother.
“As the kits grow, they will explore while their mother is out foraging or sleeping,” she added.
Skunks look for dry and dark areas to build a den. If one isn’t found to their liking, they are also perfectly capable of making their own. Skunks are energetic diggers, both for food and shelter. They also are happy to find an abandoned den previously used by another small animal such as a fox.
How to Know If a Skunk Has a Den on Your Property?
If a striped skunk has made its den on your property, you may not smell a thing! When a skunk doesn’t feel threatened, there’s no reason for it to spray.
Look for holes in your yard that are deep — you shouldn’t be able to see down to the nest. And a skunk’s den will be around 7 to 9 inches wide. Skunks also dig for food, but the holes won’t be nearly as large.
If you suspect a skunk has made its nest under your deck, observe the area carefully. Crawling under a deck to observe or remove the skunk and her kits is best left to a professional. And the risk of being sprayed isn’t the only reason you’ll want to keep your distance.
Sheds and garages are other areas around a home that skunks find appealing to nest in. If the location is cozy and dark, it can make for a perfect skunk den!
What to Do If a Skunk Nests Under Your Deck
If you’re dealing with one skunk, there are some easy ways to let them know it’s time to go! If your skunk is a mom with kits, you’ll need to be more careful. The last thing you want is for momma skunk to run off without her babies.
The most common time for skunk babies to be born is during the spring, from May to June, so be cautious during those months.
When a nest of baby skunks is found on your property, the best bet is to just be patient. If circumstances permit, wait out the eight weeks until the kits are old enough to start foraging with mom. If you have dogs in your yard or that’s not an option, you can use smells they don’t like to encourage them to live elsewhere.
One repellant is citrus peel scattered near the skunk’s den. A vinegar-soaked tee shirt placed in a plastic bag is another good method. Poke holes in the bag so the aroma of vinegar wafts out. You can place several of these vinegar shirt bags around your deck or shed.
But the best skunk repellant out there is hot peppers!
Peggy Hentz, founder of Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuylkill Haven, PA, , told A-Z Animals that skunks really, really dislike hot peppers. Scatter chopped-up ghost peppers or boil them and spray the liquid near where a skunk has made a den. It’s a good deterrent and “will not hurt them, as they won’t eat it,” says Hentz.
How to Skunk-Proof Your Home
Hentz advises that if you take some simple steps, you can discourage skunks from making your home their home as well
“They like places that are dark and quiet and dry. If you take away any of those things it will deter them,” she said.
For example, putting a light under a shed or playing loud music in an area that skunks frequent may do the trick, she advises.
Another tip is to not put any pet food outside and to make sure trash cans are secure.
Sometimes encouraging a skunk to leave is best left to professionals. In the next section, you’ll see why.
Why You Want to Keep Your Distance from Skunks
Their foul-smelling spray aside, skunks are quite beautiful animals. And they can, under certain circumstances, become quite friendly.
However, skunks, like other mammals, can contract rabies. In fact, skunks are listed as one of the top four animals that most commonly carry rabies.
Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system. Without treatment, it is always fatal. Rabies can be spread through the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal. Being bitten is the most common method of transmission. Another way that rabies is transmitted is by the saliva from an infected animal entering the eye or through broken skin.
Both our experts advise extreme caution if you are attempting to confine or trap a skunk.
If you need to contain an injured skunk, carefully place a box over the top of the animal. That will also protect you from being sprayed. If the skunk is in a humane trap, cover it with a sheet as soon as possible.
And never take a skunk home and attempt to care for it yourself, Hentz warned.
What If You or Your Dog Get ‘Skunked’?
Being sprayed by a skunk is not something you’ll soon forget!
The main ingredient in skunk spray is a sulfur compound, also known as a rotten egg smell. The odor is extremely powerful, and it can linger for days, even weeks.
While there are tips (such as tomato juice) for neutralizing the lingering smell, the most effective solution was invented by a chemist in Illinois. Almost three decades ago Paul Krebaum perfected a smell-busting combo of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and a teaspoon of dish soap.
This magic de-skunking solution has one drawback, it must be mixed in an open container and used immediately. Once baking soda is exposed to hydrogen peroxide, oxygen is released. That means if stored in a closed bottle it would explode. And that’s the same reason chemist Krebaum didn’t become a millionaire from his invention! If using this solution on a pet, be sure to keep it out of their eyes and rinse it off thoroughly.
What to Do If You Encounter a Skunk
Being sprayed isn’t an automatic reaction by a skunk. Their spray “is their defense, and they will use it in an emergency,” Hentz told us.
Still, you don’t want to press your luck should you encounter a skunk.
“If you come across a skunk, stop, make a wide berth, talk to it slowly, and continue on your way,” Hentz said. “If you’re walking your dog, turn and walk the other way,” she added.
Skunks don’t have an unlimited supply of stinky spray, but adults can “hold back” and spray several times. Baby skunks, Hentz said “lack control” and may “empty themselves,” when spraying.
The sulfur-based chemical they spray comes from a special pair of scent gland nozzles next to its anus. That’s why they must lift their tails to deliver a stinky shot that can travel up to 20 feet. Skunks can make their spray rather readily, and it cannot transmit rabies.
When Are Skunks Most Active?
Being nocturnal animals, skunks are seen mostly after dark. Still, you may encounter a mother skunk who has kits in her den out foraging during daylight hours.
Just seeing a skunk in the daytime doesn’t automatically mean it’s sick or injured.
Caring for a nest of kits is a tough job, and a mom must search for food whenever she can!
Which States Have the Most Skunks?
Although there are 12 species of skunks, only four will be found in the U.S.
The spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis) inhabits over a dozen states including parts of Texas, Florida, West Virginia, and Minnesota.
The hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura) can be found in a few states in the southwest but prefers to live south of the border in Mexico and Central America.
The American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) is only found in three states, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. This species also lives in Mexico and Central America.
The striped skunk, on the other hand, will be found in all 48 contiguous states from coast to coast. Its numbers are often stated in terms of acres and land use. For example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission computes that there is one skunk on average for every 10 acres of habitat and over 13 in each mile of farmland.
All skunks found in the U.S. have a variety of black and white markings. From the swirls and stripes of the spotted skunk to the white-topped hooded skunk, there’s no mistaking these handsome but best-avoided animals.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © bobloblaw/iStock via Getty Images
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