Whether you live in the middle of a city, the edge of town, or out in the country, you are bound to run across a striped skunk at some time in your life. This infamous skunk, known for its very strong and unpleasant odor, is also known for leaving holes (2 inches in diameter) in our lawns when hunting for food, and even for being bold enough to straight into trash cans. As irritating as some of these habits can be, skunks are great for removing damaging grubs in the lawn- a natural alternative to chemicals.
Striped skunks are medium-sized black animals with thin white stripes on their foreheads and two bold, white stripes along each side that meet in a “V” over the shoulders. Their tail is large and bushy, and grayish in appearance. These attractive animals weigh anywhere from 6-14 pounds, with a body length (including the tail) of up to 25 inches. They will reach their largest size during the fall months, in preparation for a long, cold winter.
Skunks are omnivores that take advantage of whatever the season has to offer. In fall, they turn to apples, grapes, and the berries of the Virginia Creeper vine. Voles also make up a large part of a skunk’s diet, along with shrews, deer mice, small rabbits, greens such as clover, and delicious invertebrates including crickets and grasshoppers!
Skunks are usually active at dusk as they search their territory for food. Before dawn, they find a protected, dark place to rest throughout the day. As the weather gets cooler, skunks will spend more and more time in their underground burrows. On very cold nights they may plug the entrance with grasses and leaves. They are not true hibernators, but skunks will stay in a state of limited activity during the winter months. During a sudden thaw, however, skunks will resume aboveground activities. You may see them again in late winter or early spring.
If you were a skunk, how would you protect yourself?
If you said by spraying with a sulfur-alcohol compound called butylmercaptan, you would be correct. This yellow, oily musk can reach a threat from 15 feet away. Spraying is a last resort for a skunk. First, they will try running away, stamping their front legs and shuffling, or hissing and growling. If that doesn’t work- watch out! No wonder they walk around so fearlessly.