Thursday, August 26, 2010

Apple #479: Skunks in the Fall

I have smelled skunk in the air twice in the past two days. Is it my imagination, or do I smell skunks more often this time of year in general?


Is that eau de skunk I detect on the air this fall evening?
(Photo from Warner Bros., sourced from Misster-Kitty)

  • No, it is not my imagination.  Skunks are out and about much more often in the fall. They do what's called the "fall shuffle."
  • They mate and give birth in the spring, so that's not what it's about.

(for more, click the Read More link)



    • The fall is when the young leave the nest. All the skunks, young and adults alike, go wandering off, looking for food and searching out good places to make their winter dens.  Sometimes the young stay with the mother, and sometimes they all split up.

    In the fall, the skunk babies are old enough to leave the nest, and they all go off looking for food to last them the winter.
    (Photo from US Animal control)

    • Like bears preparing for hibernation, skunks need to build up stores of fat to help them survive the winter cold.  
    • Skunks don't truly hibernate, though, but they can sleep for a week or two at a time during the coldest parts of the winter.
    • Their favorite food is white grubs (oh, yeah, yum).  They may dig up your lawn quite a bit in their hunt for these and other insect larvae.
    • Skunks also like grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, and bees.  They might also eat berries or corn or eggs or even the young of other rodents such as mice or moles or squirrels. But really they can't get enough of those white grubs.
    • Lots of people say that when you see a typically nocturnal animal during the daytime, that means it's sick or rabid.  Not true in the case of skunks, especially this time of year.  They're so driven by their need to find grubs, they'll be out hunting for them as much as possible, whether it's day or night.  
    • So if you see a skunk during the daytime, no need to freak out.  That is, not beyond the normal level of caution you'd use around the potential stinkbomb.

    If you see a skunk raise its tail, hiss, and stamp its feet, that's the signal that it's about to let loose the stink.  Back off fast!
    (Photo from University of Illinois Extension)

      • A truer indicator if a skunk is rabid is if it's moving strangely, in an uncoordinated way, or if it's having seizures. If you see a skunk doing this or other obviously bizarre things, then it's definitely time to call your local animal control or Department of Natural Resources office.
      • If you've got skunks burrowing up your lawn, or if they've found a dandy winter den somewhere in or near your home, the best way to get them to leave is by excluding them.
      • This does not mean giving them the silent treatment or not letting them join in any of your reindeer games. Exclusion means closing up any possible places where they might like to move in.
      • Under decks is a popular spot for skunks. Putting a mesh fence over the open areas below decks will help to keep them out.  Be sure to sink fences 1.5 to 2 feet deep or the skunks may easily root them up.
      • Wire mesh, sheet metal, or concrete are all good materials to use to block up any openings that skunks might find homey.
      • Skunks have been known to fall into window wells (!) 
      • If a skunk falls into a window well outside your home, you need to give the skunk a ramp which it can use to climb out.  Find a board long enough but not so long that it will stick up too high. Staple a towel to the board for traction, and place it in the window well at an angle. Then stand back and let the skunk climb out on its own.
       
      Hershey the cat is very interested in the skunk that has fallen into the window well. The people in this house have put down a board from a shelf for the skunk to use like a ramp. (This was actually a pet skunk, and the owners eventually put on oven mitts and picked up the skunk.)
      (Photo from Pat's Cats)

      • Keep your garbage cans tightly sealed or in a secure enclosure.
      • Don't leave pet food outside. Lots of animals like pet food, not just your dog or cat!

      Leave your pet food outside, and this may happen.
      (Photo from CR4)

      • The easiest way to tell whether it's a cat or a skunk eating your pet food is to look at the tracks. Cats have four toes; skunks have five.  Skunk claws are longer on their front feet than the back, and the claw marks will look larger and deeper on the front tracks.

      Skunk tracks show 5 toes, longer claws on the front feet than the back, and the back feet look almost like small bear prints.
      (Diagram from Felids & Friends)

      • If you or a pet get sprayed by a skunk, don't bother with that old tomato juice remedy because it doesn't work.  A solution that will work to get rid of this stink is as follows:
          • 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide (typical drugstore hydrogen peroxide)
          • ¼ cup baking soda
          • 1-2 teaspoons liquid dish soap. 
        • Mix and do not add water. 
        • This solution can be used to wash skin, clothes, dogs, etc. that have been sprayed by skunks. It must be used immediately and won't work if it's been stored.  Thoroughly work it into the fur or fabric and leave it on for 5 minutes before rinsing. The peroxide in the solution may lighten fabrics or your pet's fur.
      • Skunks aren't the only ones out looking for food and a house this time of year. Raccoons, woodchucks, rabbits, chipmunks, possums, and other woodland critters are rooting about.  You'll probably see more of them, too, in fields and unfortunately as roadkill.

      Sources
      Iowa State University Wildlife Extension, Skunks - Iowa's Musky Mammals
      University of Illinois Extension, Wildlife Directory, Striped Skunk
      City of Evanston, IL, Fall Means Increased Skunk Activity, September 18, 2009

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