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Q & A: Skunks

Thursday, March 29, 2012 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

No one likes a skunk. They are smelly, they are are aggressive, and the are destructive. Here is a quick Q & A about skunks, so that you can be informed about potential hazards these pests pose.

Be sure to contact The Bug Dude for all your needs regarding skunks.

Q-1. WHERE DO SKUNKS LIVE?

A. Skunks, or mephitidae, are found in both North and South America, excluding only the farthest northern reaches of Canada. Four skunk species can be found in North America, though the striped skunk is the most common. Spotted skunks mostly live in northern Mexico. Hooded skunks stay in the southwestern United States.

In the wild, skunks prefer to live in open lands next to forest areas and in clearings and pastures. On a prairie, skunks will make their homes in timber alongside a river or in thickets. Hollow logs can also become skunk homes.

Skunk dens are lined with hay, grass or leaves. Skunks will usually have more than one den, and they will go from one to the other to loaf throughout the day.

But often, skunks move into human territory. Skunks will burrow under sheds, homes, businesses, porches, decks, crawlspaces and woodpiles and create a home. They will enter foundation openings to get to these spots or create a skunk hole themselves. They have large feet with well-developed claws which make them very good diggers. In urban areas, skunks can also be found in industrial parks with large open areas.

Skunks are very sensitive to light, which is why they prefer the cool darkness of their dens during the day.

Q-2. WHEN ARE SKUNKS MOST ACTIVE?

A. Skunks are nocturnal, so you will rarely see them during the day near your home or business.

They start the mating process in February. About 10 weeks later, 2 to 8 babies, and sometimes up to 16 babies, will be born. Female skunks only have one litter per year. Skunk pups are wrinkly, blind and almost hairless. Skunk babies will be independent by the following spring.

Though most wild skunks only live for about three years, some have been known to live up to 10.

Compared to some other small mammals, male skunks will travel pretty far. Though most will stay in the bounds of ½ to 2 miles from home, a male skunk may travel up to 5 miles during mating season. Female skunks are not great travelers.

During mating season, male skunks are often hit by cars. Their behavior during this time causes them to be active during the day, move very slowly and not leave an area, even if they are in danger.

In the coldest parts of winter skunks will lay dormant for about a month. At this time of year, they might create a hotel and den together for warmth, but otherwise they aren’t normally very social animals.

Q-3. WHAT FOODS DO SKUNKS EAT?

A. Skunks eat both plant and animal foods. Spring and summer are the times of year when they eat the most animal matter, since that is when insects are more available. Crickets, grasshoppers and beetles are their favorite insects. In the winter, mice serve as a huge portion of the skunk diet. When it is very hungry, a skunk may eat rats, rabbits and other small mammals.

Skunks also like to feed on garbage if they are living near humans. Dumpsters provide an easy and plentiful source of skunk food.

Q-4. WHY SHOULD I GET RID OF SKUNKS UNDER MY HOUSE OR BUSINESS?

A. If the lower ears of your corn stalks have been eaten away, a skunk is the likely culprit. If you hear a noise under your porch or building, a skunk may be setting up its home. If your lawn, garden or golf course is covered with cone-shaped holes and patches of dirt, a skunk may be searching for insect grubs.

All in all, skunks under your house or building can do a lot of expensive damage to your landscape, not to mention the odor they can produce in and around your home, or on you, your children, or house pets. Skunk spray will contaminate carpets, drapes, furniture and clothing.

A skunk is so brightly colored as if to say, “Watch out!” This is because skunks have the ability to discharge a nauseating musk from their anal glands and are capable of emitting several of these discharges one after the other. Skunks can spray their pungent smell from up to 15 feet away, or if it’s a windy day, even farther. If you are the lucky one who gets sprayed by a skunk, you will be blinded for about 15 minutes and your eyes will sting. Nosey house pets are not immune to the skunk’s spray. Obviously, the smell is there to ward off predators that get a whiff and don’t want any more. Skunk spray has evolved to smell similar to what other animals recognize as decay, which they’ll naturally shy away from. Skunk juices actually glows at night.

Before a skunk releases its scent, it will usually stamp its front feet and growl or hiss. Once a skunk lifts its tail, it usually means its victim will be covered with oily, thick skunk juice.

When skunks dig in your yard for food, a practice called “grubbing,” skunks can tear up your lawn to the point where it is beyond repair. Skunks will do grass damage to yards, golf courses, parks and other landscaping

If a skunk should choose to die under your home or business, the skunk odor will emanate into the living quarters, causing headaches and nausea. Skunk odor will contaminate carpets, fabrics, couches and clothing. Skunk smell will saturate fabrics and furniture, and can destroy insulation and any other item it comes into contact with if left alone long enough. Skunk odor can stick around for up to three years after it is sprayed.

While digging under your home or business, skunks will often fall into an area under the foundation and not be able to get themselves out because they are not good climbers. Trapped, the skunks end up dying, leaving a rotting skunk smell in their wake.

Skunks will tear into areas of your home or business and haunt it for years to come. Sometimes, so many shack up that the space becomes a skunk hotel. All this skunk damage will affect the value of your property. It is difficult to sell a home that has a skunk infestation and actually, it’s required by law that you fix a skunk problem before you sell your home. Property value can decrease between five percent and ten percent due to a skunk infestation.

Q-5. I HEARD SKUNKS CARRY DISEASES. IS THAT TRUE?

A. Yes, skunks are one of the primary carriers of rabies. Rabies, a virus, progressively paralyzes and can kill any mammal, including humans. Rabies is generally contracted through contact with an infected skunk through biting. Though humans should avoid contact with any skunks, if a skunk seems especially fearless around humans or is very active during the day, it could be infected.

Another illness spread by skunks is canine distemper. Distemper is a disease in dogs that is contagious, incurable and can be fatal. Domesticated dogs catch the virus when they come into contact with the bodily secretions of a sick skunk.

Skunks are also heavily infested with pests, which can spread into your home or business searching for hosts. Ticks, fleas and mites are all known carriers of disease.

Several cases of mites biting humans indoors have been reported.

Ticks are very mobile and have been known to crawl into buildings that skunks are living under, and may travel great distances to attach themselves to people.

If a skunk brings fleas into your home, most likely the biting bug will hop onto your house pet’s back. Once inside, large flea populations can build up quickly. Fleas live on the outside of their hosts’ bodies and need to feed on blood in order to produce eggs.

A skunk bug living near your home can become an infestation in your pantry or carpet in no time. One or two mites may stray from the skunk den and crawl along your kitchen table. But if the skunk abandons its den for any reason, the whole caboodle of skunk bugs will enter your home, looking for a new host. This is why it’s especially important to have our skunk control experts remove skunk garbage after all the skunks have been trapped.

Skunks are a liability for businesses and restaurants. Skunk diseases or skunk bugs may infect your employees, guests or food. There are documented cases of illnesses occurring in these situations, and the plaintiff successfully sues the owner of the business. Also, if you are an employer and your workers’ environment is being contaminated by skunks, you will see a drop in productivity due to illness.

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