Skunks – 20 Fun & Interesting Tidbits That Will Amaze You!
Skunks – 20 Fun & Interesting Tidbits That Will Amaze You!
When you think about skunks, what comes to mind? Have you ever seen a real “live” skunk in its natural habitat? What are your feelings about these little stinkers? How much do you really know about them? And, lastly, would you ever have one as a pet?
Whenever I tell people about the skunks that visit my backyard, I get mixed reactions. Many times people shudder, asking if they spray much? Sometimes I hear stories about the time their dog got tangled up with a skunk and got sprayed. And, of course, we’ve all sadly seen the poor little guys who didn’t make it across the street safely.
I’m hoping to change the way you see and feel about these little critters, as they are actually quite cute and good for your yard. Since we installed our outdoor Nest Cam Night-Vision Camera last fall, we’ve watched as skunks visit our yard and interact with other wildlife including possums and raccoons. Feeding them is a priority of ours as we look forward to their visits- we check the camera first thing in the morning to see who visited us overnight. We’ve learned so much about these critters and would like to dispell some of the fears about them.
Below, I’ve compiled 20 fun facts about skunks that you may not have known.
Skunks are omnivores – They eat both plants and animals. Some of their favorite foods include berries, leaves, grasses, fungi and nuts. They also eat insects, worms, reptiles, rodents, grubs, bird eggs and dead animals. (The skunks that visit our yard absolutely love peanut butter and birdseed.)
They are mammals – Skunks are part of the same family as weasels and minks.
Skunks are about the size of a domestic cat – On average they are 13-18 inches (33-46 cm) long, weigh 6-8 pounds (2.7-3.6 kg) and can run about 10 miles per hour (km/h). (Their slow speed is a leading cause of death by car.)
Average Lifespan – In the wild, they live an average of 3 years, however, in captivity, some have been known to live up to 12 years.
Skunks nest in hollow logs and old tree stumps – They also make their homes in the burrows of other animals and abandoned buildings. Occasionally, you may find these cuties nesting in your attic or crawl space. (There are many wildlife removal companies that can eradicate them from your home, but please make sure they do it humanely and don’t harm them.)
Skunks are nocturnal – This means that they sleep during the day and come out to hunt and find food in the evening and during the night. (It is not abnormal to see a skunk out during the daytime- this doesn’t mean that it is sick or has rabies. As long as it is acting normal, leave it alone- it’s probably just very hungry or has young to feed.)
Their main predator is the Great Horned Owl – Most animals, such as wolves, foxes and badgers know better than to attack a skunk. Dogs, on the other hand, are not as smart- or maybe they just want to play and won’t take no for an answer. (We actually heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling to each other during a mating ritual a couple months ago. As exciting as it would be to see these owls, we’re hoping they don’t find our little friends.)
They can spray up to 20 feet (6 m) – If they feel threatened, they will warn the offender before spraying, by stomping their front feet, lifting their tail and growling. They only spray when it’s absolutely necessary, as it takes them 3-10 days to rebuild their spray, leaving them vulnerable to predators in the meantime.
Skunks have an excellent sense of smell & hearing, but poor vision – They are unable to see things that are more than 10 feet (3 m) away. (This could explain why I was able to photograph one of our skunks from a distance of just 10 feet. She had no interest in me and I did not fear her at all, however, I was cautious. She was more interested in eating the fallen birdseed.)
They are the primary predator of Yellow Jackets – This makes skunks beneficial to us by keeping us safe from these stinging insects. As they wander around our yards, they find and dig up the nests of these pests and destroy them.
Skunks do not hibernate during winter – In cold climates, skunks do not hibernate in the same manner as bears. They just sleep for longer periods of time when the weather is really bad and venture out in search of food on mild nights.
The odor of a skunk can last up to 4 months – Contrary to popular belief, tomato juice is not the best way to remove their odor from your pet, it just makes them smell like tomato juice. The best method I’ve found is a combination of 1 quart (.95 l) 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup (59 ml) baking soda and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Dawn dishwashing soap.
Skunks mate in the early spring – They begin having babies at just 10-12 months of age. Females are pregnant for about 2 months and give birth to 4-6 babies each year.
Baby skunks are called Kits – They are born blind and their eyes open at about 3 weeks old. They are weaned after about 2 months and can leave the den. Kits can start defending themselves by spraying at just 1 month old. (You might sometimes see the youngsters following behind Mom in a single file line.)
Skunks are generally not aggressive toward humans and only spray in self-defense – Mothers are very protective of their young and will spray if there is a possibility that they will be harmed. Skunks would rather run away than to spray – leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
Some well-known, fictional skunks include – Pepe Le Pew (from the Looney Tunes), Flower (from Bambi) and Stella (from Over the Hedge).
They are immune to snake venom – They have been known to eat poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes, thereby protecting humans yet again.
A group of skunks is called a surfeit.
They can get rabies – Just like you or any other animal, a skunk has to be infected with rabies by being bitten by a rabid animal. They can contract the virus but not show any symptoms for up to 6 months. However, even an infected animal cannot spread rabies unless the disease is active and he is showing symptoms.
Each skunk has different markings – Some have white stripes that run the length of their body and tail, and others have stripes that stop halfway down their side. They have unique markings on their heads too. (Each of the cuties that visit our yard has different and distinct markings- that’s how we tell them apart and name them- there’s Harriet, Dorothy, Keith, Missy, Sissy and Bear.)
We have 6 or more skunks that regularly visit our backyard at night. We have learned so much about them just from watching them eat and interact with the possums, bunnies and raccoons that visit us. For the most part, they all eat together without issue. Occasionally, they have startled each other, but nothing further happened.
My favorite story is when Rudy, the possum, and Dorothy, the skunk, were youngsters back in October. Dorothy was peacefully eating some fallen birdseed. Rudy, however, wanted to play. She snuck up behind Dorothy and gave her a little nip. It was as though she was saying “Boo!” or “Tag, You’re It!”. Even though Dorothy was startled by this, she never sprayed Rudy. In fact, they went on to dinner together that night and many more- they became the best of friends! Rudy actually tried to play with her in this manner on another occasion, and again, Dorothy never sprayed. None of the animals in our yard have ever been sprayed. Watch as Rudy says hello to Dorothy and invites her to play in this video below.
I hope you enjoyed this post and I would encourage you to share it with your nature-loving friends, family and co-workers. Let’s get the word out that skunks are not as bad as their reputations. We all need to be more cautious when we drive and be on the lookout for these slow-moving, striped beauties. Here’s another cute video I think you’ll enjoy.
Lastly, here’s how to safely release a skunk if you accidentally trap one while attempting to trap another animal such as a naughty groundhog. I’d suggest wearing old clothes, just in case you’re not successful, but you should have no problems if you follow these steps. Be sure not to startle the skunk- speak softly as you approach it letting it know you’re there. Hold a tarp out in front of you as you walk toward the animal. Remember, he’s scared, and any sudden movements by you could spook him even more and cause him to spray. Gently set the tarp over the cage and wait a few minutes for him to settle. Carefully lift the cage and carry it to an open area for release. Continue talking to keep him calm. With the tarp still over the cage, gently open the cage door. Do not stand in front of the cage for this. Chances are he will not leave the cage as soon as the door is open (ours didn’t). Gently pull the tarp off of the cage and watch as your skunk meanders out of the cage and into the woods or field.
Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about skunks, how do you feel about them? Has your opinion of them changed? Do you fear them less now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and like this post. As always, keeps those feeders filled and don’t be in such a hurry to clean up fallen birdseed. Put a little peanut butter out and see who visits your yard. Happy Birding ~ Karen