Skunks are nocturnal mammals that eat mostly insects, but can also be found eating fruit, nuts, small animals, eggs, carrion, and even garbage. They give birth to litters of two to ten each spring. Skunks are famous for their primary defense system. When threatened, they release a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands. Skunks are very near-sighted and because of this, they are prone to getting themselves stuck (in window wells, containers, etc.).
Unfortunately, skunks are a rabies vector species, so we cannot accept them at City Wildlife.
If you see a skunk out during the day, that does not mean that it is sick. If it is circling, injured, or very aggressive, contact DC Animal Care and Control at 202-576-6664.
If you repeatedly see a baby skunk by itself, it has likely lost its mother. Contact DC Animal Care and Control at 202-576-6664.
Skunks Skunks are nocturnal mammals that eat mostly insects, but can also be found eating fruit, nuts, small animals, eggs, carrion, and even garbage. They give birth to litters of two to ten
Striped skunks: these little stinkers also help keep pests under control around San Antonio homes and are sweet and docile
Striped skunks: these little stinkers also help keep.
Kim Hubbeling likes to think of herself as an ambassador for the striped skunk. Which makes sense considering the Beacon Hill resident walked in the little stinker’s shoes.
“We have a skunk mascot costume,” said Hubbeling, a member of the Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association. “I actually wore it for Easter during the (pandemic) lockdown. My husband dressed as the Easter Bunny, and I dressed as his helper, the Easter Skunk.”
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That’s just the tip of the skunk tail. Hubbeling said striped skunks are so common in Beacon Hill, she and a few dozen other residents even show their love for the black-and-white critters with a colorful medal for Fiesta and inflatable Santa Skunks for the holidays.
And you thought skunks were all about the stench. Behind (or make that in front of) that smelly defense mechanism lies a smart, docile creature that would just as soon avoid you than spray you, and even then would warn you before launching that dreaded stink bomb.
“They’re very bright and aware of their surroundings,” said Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation founder Lynn Cuny. “And they have to be because they’re small. They’re simply an animal that nature endowed them with a way to protect themselves.”
Here’s a closer look at the striped skunk.
A mostly North American mammal. The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is the most common skunk in and around San Antonio and much of the United States, with a range from central Canada to northern Mexico. The black-furred skunks sport a thin white stripe up the center of their snouts with a thicker white stripe that divides at their shoulders to their bushy tails.
The skunks average around 20 inches long with a 10-inch tail and often weigh around 5 pounds. The typical striped skunk has an eight-year lifespan in the wild.
An odor most foul. Let’s get that stinky business out of the way. Striped skunks defend themselves by spraying an oily yellow mist from a pair of anal scent glands under their tail. The pungent smell behind the spray comes from an unholy mix of sulfur-based compounds.
That spray really goes the distance. Skunks can spray as far as 10 feet and around five times before running out of that putrid fluid. It takes a skunk at least a week to reload those glands.
Skunk spray can irritate the eyes and cause temporary blindness, but otherwise won’t cause permanent damage. The smell itself, however, can linger for days or weeks depending on how much spray is released.
They warn you before they spray. Skunks tend to spray only if cornered or threatened. Even then a striped skunk usually will stomp his feet, arch his back and even hiss before spraying.
“They’re letting you know to stay away,” Cuny said.
“I do not personally ever feel concerned that I’m going to get sprayed,” Hubbeling said, noting whenever she’s crossed paths with a skunk in Beacon Hill she just slowly moves away to give them a wide berth.
How to wash the spray away. So what do you do if you or your pet does get sprayed by a skunk? A popular suggestion is to bathe in tomato juice. Trouble is that just masks the odor by fooling your nose into smelling V8.
One of the most effective ways to remove skunk spray is with this DIY mixture:
1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid dish-washing soap.
Wear rubber gloves to mix the ingredients in a pail or other large open container. Then apply the mix to your skin or your pet’s coat with a sponge or washcloth. Work into a lather, rinse and repeat as necessary.
Ideally you want to do this outdoors to avoid bringing any skunk odors inside, though you can do this in the tub, too.
When done, dilute any leftover mixture with water and pour it down the drain. (NOTE: This mix can’t be stored or covered because it can burst a closed container. That said, the mixture is still safe to use on people and pets as well as fabrics and furniture.)
You can also use special over-the-counter products made to remove skunk smell, available at most pet stores.
Striped skunks prefer their homes natural. Hubbeling’s neighborhood aside, striped skunks tend to nest in hollow logs or in shallow burrows left by other animals, though they will dig their own dens, too.
In urban settings, skunks may make themselves at home under buildings, decks and porches. Cuny noted they also may nest in openings under sidewalks.
Nighttime omnivores. Striped skunks are nocturnal and usually start foraging for food at dusk. Striped skunks are opportunistic eaters that munch on fruits and plants, eggs and insects, and reptiles and small mammals.
Helpful pest control. Striped skunks may not be a welcome sight around your home, but they do help keep urban areas pest-free. Cuny noted skunks eat rats, while Hubbeling said she’s grateful for the skunks that eat the grubs off her lawn.
Males play the field. Striped skunks are polygamous, with some males having a harem of several females. Males tend to live alone, while females sometimes share a den with several other lady skunks.
A litter of mini-mes. Striped skunks usually mate between February and April. Females reproduce once a year, with an average litter of four babies. And they’re the spitting and spraying image of their parents.
“They’ve already got the coloration,” Cuny said. “They’re the exact replica of an adult skunk, only tiny. Behavior, everything.”
Cuny said you’re more likely to see baby skunks in the daytime because they’re precocious and will sometimes sneak out of their den while their mother is asleep. Just enjoy the sight at a distance. Like their mom and dad, baby skunks can spray.
Famous little stinkers. Given their gentle nature, skunks in pop culture tend to be portrayed more as lovers than fighters. Such famous skunks include the randy romantic Pepé Le Pew from the Warner Bros. cartoons and the sweet skunk Flower from the Disney animated classic, “Bambi.”
And as far as Hubbeling is concerned, the real striped skunk is just as sweet.
“I would say they don’t have a mean bone in their body,” she said. “I don’t want to personify them, but I think they’re adorable.”
René Guzman is a features reporter in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. He writes about pop culture and what makes San Antonio so uniquely puro San Antonio. To read more from René, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @reneguz
René A. Guzman
René A. Guzman is a features writer for the San Antonio Express-News. He writes about geek and pop culture as well as consumer gadgets and technology, and writes a blog called Geek Speak that covers comic books, tabletop gaming and other geek culture in San Antonio and beyond. He has also written about health and fitness and other consumer topics. In addition to the Express-News, Guzman’s work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Beaumont Enterprise, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining the Express-News in December 1998, the San Antonio native co-owned a college humor magazine named Bitter, for which he wrote, designed and edited, as well as distributed at various campuses and businesses citywide.
The misunderstood mammals actually are beneficial to the environment and will even warn you before they spray.