What is the first thing most people think of when they hear this word? They smell bad!
What many don’t realize is that skunks are highly beneficial animals, and are sometimes referred to as “the farmer’s friend.” Skunks are primarily insectivores, and are also opportunistic. They have powerful front claws, and eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, grubs, crickets, beetles, wasps, recluse spiders, black widow spiders, scorpions, and caterpillars. They will also readily kill and eat mice and rats, and sometimes take on snakes. Skunks are not good climbers, and will take advantage of fallen fruits and mushrooms during the spring and summer months. During the 19th century, skunks were often kept in barns to kill rats and mice.
Skunks are a California native mammal, and two species of skunk call San Bernardino County home. The Striped Skunk, Mephitis mephitis, is the most commonly seen and easily recognized species. The Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) is also found throughout many different habitats.
It is a myth that a skunk seen during daylight hours is automatically carrying rabies. Skunks are crepuscular, meaning they often visible at dawn and dusk, as well as throughout the night, but females with kits are sometimes be seen during the day during spring and early summer. Predators are far more likely to attack a den with young kits at night, so the hungry mother hunts for food during daylight hours, and does not leave the den at night. At about 5 weeks of age, the mother skunk leads her kits out of the den, and teaches them how to hunt. When the kits are finally weaned at about 8 weeks of age, the mother skunk and kits revert to a crepuscular sleeping pattern.
Skunks are very nearsighted, and can see clearly only a few feet in front of themselves, but they make up for poor eyesight with excellent hearing and a highly developed sense of smell. Chances are if you can see a skunk from a distance, it cannot see you.
The Striped Skunk often digs its own dens, but it will happily occupy abandoned burrows and dens of other animals. Dens are important to skunks, and are used from late fall until spring, unless occupied by females with unweaned kits, who use dens in late spring and summer. In winter it is common for a single den to be occupied by multiple females and a single male. Skunks often become inactive during the coldest months of winter.
The Spotted Skunk has different habitat preferences. In our region, rocky and woody habitats are preferred, and they often den in hollow logs, beneath rocks, and in crevices. They will readily take up residence in a burrow or den that has been abandoned by another species, and prefer total darkness within the den. Like Striped Skunks, they will share communal dens, unless occupied by a female with kits.
Skunks find their way into areas of human habitation for many reasons. Habitat loss is a significant factor. Since skunks are highly adaptable, they will make a home under a porch, under a house, or beneath a shed. Sufficient food, made possible by unsecured trash, pet food left outdoors, and easily obtained sources of water make living the city life easy.
When wayward skunks find their way into areas where they aren’t welcome, High Desert Wildlife Control can help you with your skunk problem professionally and humanely.
Skunks, like other wildlife, can carry disease, including rabies. Other pathogens they may carry are canine hepatitis, leptospirosis, canine distemper, fleas and ticks, and intestinal roundworms.