Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Size: 20–30″ long, including 10–15″ tail; Weight 6–12 pounds.
Signs of their presence:
Visual sighting of animal.
Sounds: Adults are generally quiet, although you’ll hear them stamp their feet. Young skunks are more vocal, especially when playing. You may hear teeth clicking, hissing, grunts, growls, purrs, squeals, and shrill screeches.
Odor is nauseating, penetrating, acrid musk.
Tracks: Small relative to body size, 5 toes on all feet, smooth continuous palm pads, long front nails.
Scat: Scat includes mostly insect body parts, some fur, and seeds. (May be slightly curved, not shown.)
Evidence of their feeding: Funnel-shaped holes in lawns, 3–4 inches in diameter, where skunks dig for grubs. Eggs that have been crushed at one end, with shell fragments pushed inside. (Raccoons usually remove one end of the shell without crushing it. Foxes carry eggs away. Weasels and mink crush the entire egg.) Another sign that skunks have been raiding the chicken house is if only one or two birds have been killed, because most other predators will kill several birds.
Common nuisance situations:
Time of year: Peak in February and March, when they’re mating. May and June, grubbing in lawns. This picks up again in late July, continuing through mid–October. Also during that period, “rabid” skunks may be active during the daytime.
Seeking a sheltered place to raise their young. They may den under porches, decks, foundations, garages, barns, or sheds.
Stinking up the place. Skunks can be very smelly, especially from the mating season through the whelping season, if the female fights off a male. If the smell seems to come and go, and is more noticeable at dawn or dusk, or with a shift in wind direction, or seems to be coming from an area with evergreen trees, it might be the odor of a great horned owl. These owls commonly eat skunks.
Defending themselves. Skunks are a mild-mannered, slow-moving, mind-your-own-business kind of animal. If provoked, they may spray people or pets. Their spray can reach up to 16 feet. Skunks can spray once they’re 2–4 weeks old. They can spray up to six times in a row, then need a day to “recharge.”
They’ll fall into window wells while searching for insects and toads, and then become trapped.
Skunks dig in lawns for grubs. They’ll sometimes scratch beehives in search of honey and insects, or raid poultry houses for eggs and chickens (but that’s rare, and such damage is more likely the work of a raccoon).
Disease risks: Rabies (they are a rabies vector species in New York), distemper.
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