Prevention and Species
Inspecting for Skunk Damage
This lesson consists of key facts and clues that will help you decide if the damage you are seeing could have been caused by this animal. These are key clues but they aren’t necessarily complete. (Humans are learning more all the time and animals change their habits, too.) But it should give you some pointers to at least help you rule out this species as a suspect in your situation.
Weight: 2.5 to 7.5 lbs.
Diet: Like the raccoon, they are true omnivores. They will eat almost anything they can get in their mouth. They are known to love grubs. They will also eat birdseed.
Habitat: They like to live along the edges of forests/fields, woods and streams. They have adapted very well to suburban environments.
Activity: Nocturnal/will den up for a few weeks at a time during extremely cold winter conditions.
Reproduction: Mating occurs between February and March with young being born about two months later. Litter sizes vary from 2-10 young. In my experience, the range is typically 3-5 young. The father does not stay and assist in raising the young.
Signs: Fewer things are more known than the skunk’s odor. Typically, clients will complain about the odor and it is their distaste for the smell that motivates them to call you. Understand however, that the odor can linger for days. Also, the discharge site may not even be on the property. These odors will normally occur during mating season (Jan-Feb) when the female sprays a male she doesn’t wish to mate with, and in June, when the young skunks begin practicing.
Average hole size: 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Juvenile skunks will make even smaller holes, often 1 to 2 inches in size under a shed wall. Note the photo. To test if a den is active, place sticks in front of the hole. Check the next day. if the sticks are knocked over, the skunk still resides under the shed.
Access: Skunks don’t enter houses that have full concrete foundations. Houses with stone foundations, dirt floors, or crawl spaces are vulnerable to the skunk’s digging ways. Generally, the skunk will have one entrance that can be identified by the half circle depression below the building’s wall and the ground. Obviously, if the building’s walls stop 3 inches above the ground, you may not be able to find the entrance. However, skunks will usually enter and exit in the most remote or secluded part of the structure. Always look for hair that may have stuck to the wood. If it is black and white, you have found skunk hair. About 99 % of the time the skunk’s entry will be at ground level.
Skunks prefer to dig their dens in enclosed spaces such as under concrete steps (they are hollow), porches that have a solid skirting, under sheds, and in piles of debris. For the most part, they won’t live under a structure that is open enough for you to directly crawl in unhindered. If too much light reaches them, they won’t feel safe enough to live there.
Damage to house: Skunks don’t damage buildings structurally. They just change the smell of the place. If a homeowner, whose house has a full poured concrete basement, swears that a skunk has entered their basement, check to see if they have window wells. Chances are a skunk has fallen into one and can’t get out. You also may not always see the skunk. If they can, they will actually dig a den hole in the window well, thus allowing you only to see a hole. So look carefully. If a skunk is trapped inside a garage, look for damage to items up to one foot high on the wall. In crawl spaces they will shred insulation if they can reach it (i.e. within 2 feet). They also like to chew heat tape wire, especially when they are trapped.
Damage to lawn/garden: Skunks will eat grubs and raccoons do, too. When skunks are grubbing, you will find little holes in the turf. The holes will be a few inches apart. Skunks will grub a lawn very systematically, one section at a time. On one job, the skunks were digging around the heads of an automatic sprinkler system.
Feces: For practical purposes this sign is pretty weak. Chances are you won’t find any and if you do, it will look very much like a cat’s except for the content. Feces are a great sign of a skunk being trapped in a building.
Tracks: See book on tracking.
Safety: Skunks have been known to spray up to 15 feet or more. Young skunks can also spray. Skunks are a rabies vector species.
Stephen M. Vantassel, Wildlife Removal Handbook Rev. (Stephen Vantassel, 1999).
Stephen M. Vantassel. Wildife Damage Inspection Handbook 3rd. ed. (Lincoln, NE: Wildlife Control Consultant, 2012).
©2005 Stephen M. Vantassel