Latin Name: Mephitis mephitis
Skunks are omnivorous mammals known for their ability to accurately spray a defensive, odorous liquid from their anal glands. Different species of skunk vary in size and appearance, and all have aposematic warning coloration. Found in almost all parts of Ontario, Skunks are burrowing mammals that are attracted to spaces under porches, woodpiles and sheds; they are drawn to open composts, garbage and pet food. Removing a skunk from a property should involve implementing physical control measures as part of an integrated pest management system to prevent future habitation. Skunks feed on insects, small rodents, carrion, fruits and vegetables, and will often dig small holes in lawns in search of grubs and larvae, especially after a rainfall. If an attractive food source is present, skunks are likely to return as they are not particularly disturbed by humans.
Measuring anywhere between 15-37 inches in length and weighing anywhere from 1.1 lbs (spotted skunks) to 18 lbs (hog-nosed skunks), all skunks have elongated bodies and short, muscular legs capped with long front claws. Most commonly black and white, skunks are also brown or grey, all-black, all-white, or even cream-coloured. The Striped Skunks found in Southern Ontario tend to be cat-sized, and black, with white aposematic stripes.
Skunks in Southern Ontario mate between February and March, and are polygynous. Female skunks tend to be extremely protective mothers, and males take no part in raising the young. Before birth, the mother will excavate a den (or locate and existing burrow) and deliver a litter of 4-7 kits. Kits open their eyes about three weeks after birth, are weaned at two months but typically stay with their mother until they are mature enough to mate. They are short-lived animals with few surviving for longer than three years.
Usually nocturnal, skunks are notorious for their anal scent glands, which they can use as a defensive weapon. Skunks can spray as far as ten ft with a high degree of accuracy using muscles located next to the anal glands. The rancid defensive spray of skunk can cause irritation and temporary blindness. Generally quite docile, Skunks will stamp their front feet, raise their tail, and begin to turn in advance of spraying. This warning should be heeded, vacate the vicinity and return at a later time. Although an excellent sense of hearing and smell, they have terrible vision and are only able to objects three ft ahead.
Skunks are a primary predator of the honeybee; they disturb nests to lure and ingest investigating guards.
Skunks do not hibernate, but they do den up, entering a dormant stage for extended periods of time in winter months. During dormancy, skunks are inactive and feeding only rarely. Female skunks often overwinter in a huddle of as many as twelve, while males usually den alone. Skunks will often use the same winter den site repeatedly from year to year. Due to their nocturnality, the presence of Skunks on your property may go unnoticed for quite some time, at least until a confrontation with a perceived threat leads to the release of that tell-tale stink. Other indicators of a skunk den on your property include droppings (usually containing insect fragments), freshly dug soil, hair and rubbed marks around exterior holes in the building’s foundation and roof.
Skunks and Humans/Pets:
In the event of spraying, flush the eyes of the victim with significant quantities of water and wash their skin with carbolic soap. Immediately contact your doctor or veterinarian. Clean non-living objects with diluted chlorine bleach, ammonia or vinegar.
The most prevalent cause of skunks biting humans is the Rabies virus, of which in Ontario, they are a primary vector. To mitigate the risk of exposure to the virus, the City of Toronto requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated against the virus and urges that abnormal skunks be reported to 311. In the event of being bitten by any animal, wash the wound with soap and water, immediately contact a doctor and call Toronto Public Health at (416) 338-7600. Keep the animal in sight if possible for capture, containment and testing.
Further information about rabies can be found by visiting rabies.mnr.gov.on.ca/.
Fun Fact: Skunks can legally be kept as pets in the UK. However, it is illegal to remove their scent glands.
Skunks are nuisance pests that can disrupt enjoyment and sanitation of your home. The easiest way to control or prevent skunks from inhabiting a structure on your property is by implementing physical control measures in tandem with skunk removal by a licensed technician from Addison Pest Control. The property should be checked for entry points to structures where they may be able to create a den. If skunks have already built a nest within a structure, they must be removed before permanent seals are installed. Extra care must be given between the months of April and September when kits are being reared. If the young are not mobile, the structure cannot be sealed. Brush, woodpiles, lush vegetation, dilapidated structures should be removed from the property, the area should be brightly lit, urine soaked kitty litter, and other obstacles can be spread around entryways to the den or talk radio can be loudly played. More tips and information, including municipal rules for wildlife trapping and removal, can be found on the City of Toronto’s website here. Addison Pest Control complies with all Municipal, Provincial and Federal regulations concerning the safe and ethical removal of wildlife pests.
Note: Skunks are fur-bearing mammals under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. In defence of preservation of property, a person is permitted to capture an animal on their land. However, current Ministry of Natural Resources regulation states that using body-gripping traps or placing poison could result in criminal charges and provincial charges with fines up to $5,000. Humane wildlife removal from your property should be undertaken by a licensed structural pest control professional.