Skunks fleeing urban areas, stinking up ours

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Whether people notice it by sight or by smell it has become very clear that skunks are becoming far less bashful about making appearances in areas inhabited by humans. For many in the Black Belt, this is a new experience. Actually, skunks have always been around, they just seemed to prefer a safe distance.

Recently, more and more people have detected the unwelcome presence of the skunk and his odor.

The skunk invasion can be very unattractive to the human nose. However, the reason for their emergence could be because of humans moving in on their territory. Becki Mills, President of the Alabama group Skunks as Pets, said often when humans move in it forces skunks to relocate.

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“It could be because of large amounts of construction,” Mills said. “A lot of times they will move because their habitat is being taken away.”

Mills said the creation of new neighborhoods and other areas could also have a great impact.

“I am sure it has a lot to do with subdivisions or construction taking away their habitat,” Mills said. “They have probably been there all along they are just moving because of that.”

Mills said the skunks did not likely come from very far if they were not there before. Skunks usually tend to stay in one place if they can find a suitable food source. Mills said people are probably seeing a few skunks many times rather than multiple skunks.

Skunks do not breed all year like some rodents. They generally breed around April and may have multiple young.

“Skunks only breed once a year in the spring,” Mills said. “They can have from three to four to as many as eight at a time. It just depends. If you see skunks in an area it could be that you are just seeing the same skunk over and over.”

A skunk’s territory may span 30 to 40 acres. In the wild, skunks tend to den in shallow burrows or hollow logs. They are hardly ever found more than two miles from a water source, which makes the areas around the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers ideal.

Most people see skunk’s as a threat and its growing numbers in the Black Belt have not been welcome. The truth is, if they are left alone, skunks can be of great service to people. Skunks are omnivorous and help keep the rodent population in check. They also dig for insects, especially beetles, larvae, and earthworms. Their diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions. They also help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean. An estimated 70 percent of a skunk’s diet consists of insects considered harmful to humans.

Unfortunately, humans and skunks do have unpleasant encounters from time to time. Skunks will often give fair warning by hissing or stomping, but sometimes people do not take the warning seriously.

Mills said the best thing to do if they encounter skunks is leave it alone.

“I do not recommend bothering a skunk if you see it in the wild,” Mills said. “They usually only spray if they feel threatened so the best thing to do is leave them alone.”

If skunks are disturbed the end result can be a spray of a sulfur compound called N- bulymercaptan. It is ejected in a fanlike pattern from two small openings near the animal’s rectum. The glands that produce the chemical hold enough for five or six full-powered sprays,

Skunk encounters are not restricted to the woods. Skunks can survive very well in urban areas.

If a skunk does move into a person’s territory there are several ways to prevent it from staying. The first is not feed the skunks. They can easily become dependent on human food sources. People should also never leave pet food outside.

Never discard edible garbage where skunks can get to it and secure garbage containers and eliminate their odors. Use a small amount of ammonia or cayenne pepper in the garbage to discourage scavenging.

Because skunks like to dig they can become a problem in the yard. To prevent this place mothball-filled socks or sprinkle cayenne pepper around your yard to discourage digging. Fences are effective as long as they are buried at least 1 1/2 feet in the ground. Debris and brush piles should be removed or stacked neatly to eliminate suitable cavities. Blow-up or plastic great horned owls may be strategically placed and periodically moved to deter skunks.

Breakout Box?

Skunk Smell Remedy: 1 quart 3 percent peroxide, 1/4 c baking soda, 1-tablespoon liquid hand soap. Mix all three ingredients together. Shampoo thoroughly keeping out of eyes, nose and mouth. Soak 5 minutes. Rinse well.