When Skunks Turn into a Nuisance
Most Canadians are familiar with skunks, and in particular with the striped skunk, readily recognizable by its characteristic black and white coloring that starts at the beginning of their forehead and extends down their bodies in a V shape to the base of their tail. And most of them were probably not alarmed when they’ve encountered one in their neighborhood, given that they are usually easy-going and known for their surprising friendliness towards humans.
On the other hand, skunks are (in)famous for yet another thing: their noxious, eye-watering, almost-impossible-to-remove stench that invades and permeates all things sprayed upon. The nature’s version of tear gas, the highly repellant musk is produced by skunks to mark their territory and, more often, to defend themselves from predators. The “spray” is, in fact, a mixture of seven volatile compounds, containing thiols, thioacetates, and methylquinoline, that can be accurately discharged up to 12 feet and up to 20 feet with less accuracy. The aim is the offender’s eyes, causing ocular swelling and redness, squinting, and even temporary blindness for 15 minutes or longer.
And that’s not even the worst thing about it. Since the odor-bearing fluid is oily and only slightly volatile, it doesn’t go away on its own easily. In fact, if nothing is done to get the odor out, it can be 2-4 months before it vanishes completely or even more, if the musk has permeated porous materials that are kept in poorly ventilated spaces. To remove the odor from humans and pets, a solution containing hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, or liquid soap can be used, as well as other mildly acidic substances such as diluted vinegar and tomato juice.
No matter how adorable and entertaining we may find them at times, skunks remain wild animals in search for food and shelter, which often brings them into conflict with homeowners. The most significant damage they cause in urban environments includes:
- Taking residence behind wood and rock piles, inside openings under porches, decks, and concrete slabs, and inside elevated sheds and crawlspaces under houses
- Digging for insect grubs in lawns and other grassy areas when humidity drives them closer to the surface (the holes are similar in size to those caused by the eastern gray squirrel)
- Feeding on ripening berries and other fallen fruit
- Tearing apart logs and disrupting bee hives in search for insects
- Falling into window wells and post holes due to their poor climbing abilities (here are some tips you can use to help them get out by themselves)
- Transmitting several bacterial diseases to pets and humans, including rabies, canine distemper, and tularemia.
Preventing Conflicts with Habitat Modification
Skunks are attracted to homes and yards due to the availability of discarded food and convenient denning sites, so the best way to reduce the likelihood of an encounter is to remove all such attractants from your property. Here is what you can do:
Prevent access to denning sites. Surround crawlspaces and holes under porches and decks with metal screens, sheet metal, or wood. Seal and regularly maintain skirts under mobile sheds.
Don’t feed them. Skunks that are artificially fed will eventually lose their fear of humans, and this may create unpleasant situations for your family and pets. It’s also important to ensure you’re not feeding them without knowing, so make sure to secure garbage cans and compost bins, feed pets inside, and regularly clean bird feeders.
Install proper fencing. Close off frequented areas with hardware cloth, metal flashing, and other durable barriers. Do the same to prevent skunks from digging near the foundation of your house.
Place bee hives on elevated platforms. Keeping bee hives on one meter high platforms or placing electric fencing above the ground will keep skunks out.
Enclose poultry in secure coops at night. If skunks are eating fowl and their eggs, enclose birds in a secure coop at night. To identify if the damage is indeed caused by skunks, check for egg shells (that are rarely moved farther away from the nest) and digging under the coop.
If all your efforts to discourage skunks from entering your property fail, you may have to resort to more than just preventative measures. Live trapping and removing the animal is best left to a professional pest control company, which can ensure the unwanted guests are removed humanely – and permanently.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.