Skunks - What are they?

The skunk is a carnivorous, cat-sized mammal. Skunks were previously considered as part of the weasel family (Mustelidae) but DNA research has placed them in their own family, Mephitidae. This animal is black in colour with conspicuous white stripes or spots. Adults average 54 centimetres long and weigh 1.6 kilograms. Two genera occur in Canada.

Skunks are notorious for a foul-smelling secretion (mercaptan) produced in a pair of anal glands. Used in self-defence, it can be projected a distance of 3 to 4 metres. The horned OWL is one of the skunk’s few natural predators.

Skunks are nocturnal, passing the day in burrows. They sleep through the coldest months, frequently several animals together. INSECTS, vegetation, fruit, BIRDS’ eggs and small MAMMALS are the major foods of these omnivores. As opportunistic scavengers, skunks have adapted easily to urban environments. While considered a pest in residential areas, the skunk’s food preferences help farmers. They are susceptible to rabies and are an important carrier of the disease.





The main problem with skunks is their horrid stench. Their oily musk is so potent that it can cause skin irritation and blindness, and skunk spray is notoriously hard to get rid of, remaining potent for several days. Aside from their smell, skunks can damage personal property by eating garden fruits and vegetables, scattering trash everywhere, and digging up lawns in search of worms. The pests have also been known to carry the rabies virus.

Catching a whiff of the animal’s foul odour is a sure way to tell skunks are nearby. Residents might also find piles of dirt pushed out from underneath the foundations of their houses, porches, decks, or sheds, which indicates the presence of a skunk burrow. The pests leave distinct conical holes in the ground when they dig for insects and grubs, as well.

Keeping trash cans secure is one of the biggest ways to prevent unwanted skunks from infesting yards. Residents should also take steps to remove other potential food sources such as outdoor pet food and bird feeders. Skunks are not good climbers, so sturdy fences buried several centimetres into the ground help keep skunks away from gardens. Finally, securing gaps in the undersides of decks and porches with mesh wiring can prevent skunks from burrowing under the house.

Due to the potentially dangerous nature of the animals, inexperienced homeowners should never attempt to trap or remove wild skunks on their own. Contact us today if you require the assistance of a professional.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia