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Skunk Mythbusters

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Skunk photo by Kirk McCabe
Striped Skunk. Photo by Kirk McCabe

The skunk, like the raccoon, is a mid-sized carnivore that has learned to thrive among humans. People worry more about skunks than about many other species because of their ability to spray. Test your knowledge about your nocturnal neighbors!

1. Skunks will spray you without warning.
Fact or myth?

Myth! Skunks rarely spray, but when they do, it is usually because they have been cornered or surprised. If you do corner a skunk she will threaten you first and give you warning signs to back off. She will stamp her feet, puff up her tail and turn around to aim before releasing her missile. Dogs often don’t know how to read skunks' body language, and are prime targets.

2. Skunks are the major carrier of rabies in California.
Fact or myth?

Fact! Each rabies-vector species carries the strain of rabies that has adapted to the population that sustains it. In California, the two rabies virus strains that infect all the other species are the skunk strain and the bat strain. This does not mean, however, that all skunks are rabid. In 2012, only 16 skunks were reported rabid in the entire state of California. In 2011, the number of reported cases was 12 statewide.

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Skunk graphic
Skunks like to dig, not gnaw or chew. An "L" shaped barrier of wire as shown above can prevent a skunk from digging under your house. Learn more...
Great Horned Owl. Photo by Don Moseman
Great Horned Owls enjoy a meal of skunk. Photo by Don Moseman
Sleeping skunks. Photo by Alison Hermance
Skunk patients sleep in a heap at WildCare. These striped mammals are native to the Americas. Photo by Alison Hermance


3. Skunks chew their way into attics and crawl spaces. Fact or myth?

Myth! Skunks like to dig. They rarely cause gnawing or chewing damage, and they are not good climbers. They will be happy to dig through your refuse for tasty food you might have left for them and they are willing to work hard to tear up your lawn to help rid you of slugs and snails. They will also provide clean-up service for any pet food you leave lying around your deck, and have been known to come in pet doors to help out in this way.

4. Tomato juice is the best solution to neutralize skunk odor. Fact or myth?

Myth! Tomato juice only masks the odor to your nose-- temporarily. Better products are available for sale, or you can make your own. If your pet has been sprayed, bathe him in a freshly-made mixture of 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (from the drug store), 1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and a teaspoon of liquid dish detergent. After 5 minutes, rinse your pet with water. Repeat if necessary. For clothing and surfaces, a diluted chlorine bleach solution will neutralize the odor.

5. Skunks have no predators. Fact or myth?

Myth! Skunks don’t have a lot of predators because of their stink, but although the olfactory sense in birds like Great Horned Owls isn't well understood, we do know that these raptors find them very tasty!

6. Skunks were introduced to the Americas from Europe. Fact or myth?

Myth! Two skunk species inhabit Indonesia and the Philippines; all other skunks are native to the Americas from Canada to central South America. Although notorious throughout their range for their ability to spray, skunks won’t fire unless provoked. Don’t corner them.

7. Trapping and relocating a nuisance skunk will solve the problem humanely. Fact or myth?

Myth! Relocating any wild animal is illegal because it spreads diseases to other populations, makes it someone else's problem, and usually causes the animal's death. If the source of the problem remains (e.g. a food source or a nice den site), another animal will just take its place.

Did you find the answers to WildCare's Skunk Mythbusters Quiz surprising? Click here to invite a friend to take the Quiz too!

Humane Wildlife Solutions

Problems with skunks on your property? Contact WildCare's Wildlife Solutions Service at 415-453-1000 x23.
Learn more at wildcarebayarea.org/wildlifesolutions.

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