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Striped skunks. Photo: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tomfriedel">Tomfriedel</a>, CC <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en">some rights reserved</a>
Striped skunks. Photo: Tomfriedel, CC some rights reserved

Natural Selections: Skunks

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This nocturnal nuisance can spray its cruel brew about as far as it can see: Ten feet. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager get down to the basics: "How do you get rid of the skunk under the porch?

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Why do we mostly see skunks by the side of the road, dead?

This might not be because skunks just like to hang out by the side of the road. Although they smell and hear well, they don’t see well. They can’t see more than 10 feet in front of them, they don’t move that quickly, and, Curt Stager says, their usual defense—spraying—is “the worst possible defense against a car. That’s actually a major source of mortality, there aren’t too many animals that would normally prey on skunks…really, in the US, it’s cars and people.”

Do skunks deserve their bad reputation? How likely is it I’ll get sprayed by one?

Although skunks do have a terrible odor, they’re beautiful animals and fun to watch, for example, from behind a window. “A lot of people have them as pets. Usually you’d de-scent them, but they’re not as likely to spray usually as people often think, which sort of makes sense biologically, they’re more likely to try to run away, or make you run away by hissing or stamping their feet or putting up their tail or something.”

Skunks are unlikely to spray for a simple, “mechanical” reason, Stager says: They only have enough scent in their anal scent glands for five or six sprays—and when that supply is exhausted it takes a skunk up to 10 days to replenish its supply. In the meantime, a skunk is fairly defenseless.

A skunk can spray up to 10 feet, and in addition to the smell the spray can burn the eyes of a person (or dog) unlucky enough to be the recipient. Skunks aren’t the only animals who spray—male cats spray, for example—but they don’t have skunks’ bad reputation. Other animals have an unpleasant odor, like animals in the weasel family. But it’s really the skunk family that “does the spraying of the bad scent.”

What’s with the name?

“Skunk” is actually a Native American word, meaning “one who squirts or sprays”. The scientific name of the striped skunk that’s native to our region is “Mephitis mephitis”, which Stager says translates to “Stink! Stink!”

So how do I get the skunk from under my porch?

Stager says if a skunk is living under your porch, one way to “discourage” the dark-loving creature is by putting a light under the porch. As for what to do if the skunk then takes up residence under the shed, Stager suggests putting a lot of peanut butter under the neighbors’ porch, or in a less socially awkward move, live-trapping the skunk using a “Havahart”-type trap. Once the skunk is trapped, Stager says, you can easily approach the visually-challenged animal by holding a sheet in front of you. You can then putt the sheet over the trap, and drive the skunk off your property (ideally in a pick-up truck.)

When you take the sheet off, the skunk should (eventually) wander away, allowing you to reclaim your trap.

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