Always dressed to impress, in a natural suit of black and white, the North American striped skunk is the most commonly seen skunk here in the Nutmeg state. Lethargic during the cold winter months, this time of year is when the amorous flat footed, stink bombs are most active; out on the prowl, searching for suitable mates.
Content to spend most of their lives as solitary beings, skunks aren’t as bad as many may think. As with all else in life, it’s a case of perspective. Some view these natural anomalies, equipped with the ultimate defensive weapon of scented putridness as good to have around, because they are opportunistic omnivores who like to dine on a steady diet of grubs, termites, maggots, mice, rats, cockroaches, hornets, wasps and other unsavory varmints. They are reportedly mild mannered and prefer to keep their distance from people and domestic animals, and when threatened they do give a warning, in the form of stomping their feet, before firing up their malodorous perfume, which is truly their only natural defense. Skunks are ill equipped to protect themselves in any other way; they have poor eye sight, are slow and not very agile, they aren’t camouflaged by their fur, so spraying their enemies with their noxious, oily, musk is really their only chance to evade predators. The rancid spray, which can be shot with accuracy up to ten feet, can be whiffed up to a mile and half away. It can cause temporary blindness, gagging and nausea, giving the slow-moving mammal ample time to waddle away to safety.
Shot from two anal glands located under their tails, skunks can deplete their supply of spray, rendering them virtually helpless against predators, so they choose carefully when and where they use their unique odorous armor. It takes them anywhere from six to ten days to replenish their supply of stench weaponry once depleted.
The great horned owl is the skunks’ biggest foe, due to its stealthy targeting from above, skunks don’t get the chance to react before they are swooped up by the large nocturnal birds. However, it is human beings that account for 50 percent of all skunk deaths each year. Notorious for trying to cross the road, at night, without looking both ways first, skunks are unfortunately a common sight as road side casualties, acting as a link in the food chain for other native animals and birds who rely on carrion as a staple for their diets.
With a usual gestation period of 60 to 75 days, baby skunks are plentiful in the springtime, here in Connecticut. Sometimes mistaken for kittens, one mother skunk will most often have a litter of seven to ten babies. Not the wandering type, skunks usually have a territory of two miles from a water source and their home den, which is typically made in hollowed out trees, under porches, brush piles, and burrows that have been abandoned by other animals.
Although viewed by some as non-threatening and even cute, skunks can be dangerous and not just because of their ability to cause lingering stank, but because they are carriers of leptospirosis and rabies.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Safety, wildlife nuisance program biologist Chris Vann, the best way to keep skunks away from you and your home are to make sure all garbage is tied up and covered, use moth balls under porches or sheds and in areas you think skunks may like to settle in, and use mild harassment tactics, like noise, radios and such if you do see a skunk you don’t want hanging around.
“They usually get the hint pretty quickly if you make some noise and use mild harassment,” said Vann. “They don’t really want to be anywhere near humans if they can help it.”
If by chance, you or your four-legged friends, do get in a tussle with a skunk and are on the receiving end of the smelly arsenal, the best way to neutralize the stink is with a bath of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid dish soap.