Skunks

How to Identify and Get Rid of Skunks

Skunks-Thinkstock

Skunks are docile animals but may spray if threatened.

Photo by Thinkstock

Share: 

Rate this Article: 

Average: 3.1 (11 votes)

Here are tips on how to identify and get rid of a skunk in your garden.

What Are Skunks?

Skunks are nocturnal animals that are naturally mild-mannered and non-aggressive; they prefer small animals and insects for dinner instead of your garden. They occasionally visit gardens and if they do, it may be because corn or other plants are close to the ground.

The skunk claims homesteading rights from coast to coast. Distributed across the country are 4 species of skunk, including the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and the spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius). The common striped skunk, allergic to strenuous life in deep forests, lives mostly in fry, rolling, well-watered country.

Skunks can be very nice to have around because they dig up and feed on the larvae of cutworms, Japanese beetles, hornworms, and other crop-destroying insect life. However, skunks are not partial to insects. They will eat  leaves, buds, grasses, grains, garbage, any fruit or berries within reach, and even small game. This is what can make them a bit of a nuisance to gardeners.

Although their nocturnal wanderings around our fields and gardens, lawns, and flower beds cause us occasional inconvenience and uneasiness, these are minor faults which can be readily overlooked by the time the Harvest Moon begins to shine. It is then that the skunk’s appetite for the pests that plague our gardens helps make it possible for that Moon to glow over a horn brimming with plenty.

get-rid-of-striped-skunk_full_width.jpg

Why and How Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks are famous for their skunk spray—you can smell an angry skunk from over a mile away. Furthermore, a skunk can “shoot” you from 10 to 12 feet, sideways, up, or down, with little apparent effort. Most gardeners worry more about a skunk spraying in the garden, on the gardener, or on a pet than about a skunk chewing up some veggies.

Under a skunk’s tail are two pouches equipped with a pair of ducts which, in peacetime, remain hidden, but which quickly expose themselves when danger threatens. Their foul ammunition is a golden-yellow liquid whose active ingredient is the sulfide mercaptan. Each of the two pouches contains enough ammunition for six rounds. After the supply is exhausted, a week’s time is required to replenish it. This spray has made skunks creatures feared by nearly all animals, including most of mankind.

A skunk’s warfare is purely defensive. When confronted by a menacing man or clamorous dog, skunks will try to sidestep by ambling off. This means that if you find a skunk, simply turn back and you should be fine. If pursued, skunks will turn, face their aggressor, and stamp their forefeet. This is their first warning. At this point, you should really be running!

The second warning comes when their tails, all but the tips, are hoisted. Then, this ultimatum failing to establish the peace, the white tip rises, and spreads out, and the skunk, snapping into a U-position with snout and rear toward the target, delivers a charge of spray. At this point, it is simply too late, and your dog probably smells foul.

People usually get sprayed when they are walking through their yards in the dark (if you can’t see a skunk, you can’t run away), or if they disturb a skunk while eating. Those are good reasons to keep skunks out of your yard in the first place and to always carry a flashlight!

    Identification

    How to Identify Skunks in your Garden

    The striped skunk has prominent white stripes running down its back and black fur on the rest of its body. It is the size of a house cat and is the most abundant species of skunk in the United States. Spotted skunks are smaller and have white spots as well as broken white strikes amid their black fur. Skunks have short legs and proportionately large feet with well-developed claws that are good for digging.

    Tracks can be helpful in identifying skunks. Skunks are often mistaken for raccoons, because they both have five toes. Sometimes the fifth toe is hard to see in skunk tracks. Their heels usually are not part of the tracks, and their claw marks are usually somewhat visible. Skunk droppings also often contain undigested insect parts.

    Often, the best way to identify skunks is unfortunately by their odor. Hopefully you don’t have to deal with the skunk spray in your garden, but you’ll know for sure that you have a skunk as soon as they decide to spray.

    skunk-tracks-identification.jpg

    Photo Credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources. These tracks from a striped skunk could help you identify the skunk in your garden.

    Skunk Damage

    If your lawn or flower bed has lots of holes in it, you may have a skunk problem. Skunks dig up the turf looking for grubs. They move around at night and dig in grassy areas, making distinct 3– to 4–inch deep holes. Skunk activity increases in the spring and then lessens naturally, so any problems may stop all on their own. 

    Skunks sometimes feed on corn, but they only eat the lower ears. If a corn stalk has been toppled over, the culprit is more likely a raccoon. Planting taller varieties of corn can minimize this damage.

    Of course, skunk spray is a common sign of damage. If your dog smells foul, you probably have a skunk.

    Control and Prevention

    How to Get Rid of Skunks

    • Spray a mixture of castor oil and dish-washing detergent diluted in water. Skunks find the smell offensive. Spray the area at night when the skunk is away foraging. 
    • Probably the best skunk repellent is a light. Skunks are nocturnal and their eyes are very light sensitive. A bright light or a motion sensor flood light will scare skunks away.
    • Most animals, including skunks, dislike the smell of citrus fruits. Place orange or lemon peels around the yard as a natural skunk repellent.
    • Predator urine (dogs, coyotes) can be used to repel a skunk. These are commercially sold in garden centers. (Note: Use a responsible source for predator urine, to make sure that the animals are treated humanely and the brand complies with state and federal regulations.) 
    • Many readers have found success placing ammonia-soaked rags around the yard, however, these need to replaced often.
    • If the skunks are in a smaller garden patch, put bars of strong–smelling soap or a room deodorizer near your garden. Skunks hate strong scents.
    • If nothing works, there are humane ways for professionals to trap raccoons and skunks and transport them elsewhere. Often, skunk removal by trapping is the only answer, and there just isn’t a lot you can do if it is a skunk. However, be aware that many species of wildlife do not survive when placed in a new territory.

    How to Prevent Skunks

    • As skunks love to find lots of grubs in your garden, one of the best preventative methods is to treat your lawn so that you get rid of their favorite snacks. Spray your lawn with milky spore disease or beneficial nematodes. This will also help to control Japanese beetle larvae, so it’s a win-win! Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for suggestions. 
    • Fencing may also be a good idea for small areas, such as a garden patch.
    • If you don’t want skunks living under your deck or shed, seal these areas with chicken wire. Leave at least one foot of additional wire on the ground extending from the structure to prevent skunks from digging under to enter.

    What to Do If You Get Sprayed By a Skunk

    Oh no! We can all smell a skunk from miles away, but it’s truly awful to have that smell on you. If you or your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, try a mixture of 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. Shampoo only the area sprayed by the skunk. Wet the area and work the solution into the skin or fur with your hands (avoid the eyes). Rinse. (This remedy may dry out the  skin. If so, use a good-quality crème rinse to replenish moisture once the skunk smell is gone.) 

    Do you have any special remedies that you use for skunk spray? Let us know below!

    Plants Affected

    What do you want to read next?

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    Skunk sprayed dog in garden.

    Skunk sprayed dog in garden. tomato plants got sprayed. Is there a way to salvage the tomato or are they garbage now.

    Skunked tomatoes

    Hi, Tim, We’re thinking that, unfortunately, your harvest is a lost cause. We have been informed that the skunk spray is an oil that sticks to anything it touches, although, it is not toxic (to pets). You might contact a local veterinarian or cooperative extension (at a local/nearby) university. We can’t think of a way that you could save them … but if you do, please come back here and let us know!  All the best!

    Oh please stay off the

    Oh please stay off the religious reasons to allow skunks in the yard. Children and pets do not understand. Period. My native friends run like hell too when confronted by a skunk whether or not it's docile and no matter how many millenia they coexisted with this creature. You don't coexist with skunks.

    My pet was sprayed in the middle of the night and a 24 hour emergency vet clinic asked if I had any liquid fleecey, downey or gain. Fortunately I did. I followed instructions and it worked instantly.

    Pour the entire bottle into the tub, add some water, pt pet in and wash like you would be giving a normal pet bath.

    Large rocks dug into the perimiter of the yard where they gain access, then sprayed with coyote urine has worked very well at keeping them out. Lights have not been successful.

    Skunks~R~People too !

    I'm always amazed when humans react with hostility at the other life forms the Creator deemed we share this Planet with. We have forgotten our connection with all of Creation, but if inward journeying is practiced, the long dormant memory within can stir and the Soul link with all be awakened. Telepathy is actually a natural part of Life, and all creatures, with the exception of the cut-off Humans, exist in a state of telepathic communication with each other.
    Take a deep breath, and from a place of respect within yourself, send out the thought form that you do not want the animal in your garden, BUT also LEAVE some WILD WEEDS for it to eat as an alternative!
    What do the self-centered humans expect when they chop everything down to the nub in pursuit of that socially engineered stupidity called a "perfect" lawn ?!
    Think of the Native Indians and how they managed to exist in harmony with Nature for thousands of years before the European invasion. Perhaps if we take a page from their book we won't be so quick to give a wild Creature it's death sentence all because it's ignorantly considered a "nuisance". All Beings have their place, and so it is.

    I AGREE WITH STACEY SKUNKS

    I AGREE WITH STACEY SKUNKS ARE GODS CREATURES ALSO DIGGING IS WHAT THEY DO AND AS FAR AS SPRAYING GOD ACTUALLY GAVE THEM A GIFT TO DEFEND THEM SELF THEY COME IN MY YARD EVERYNIGHT THEY DONT BOTHER ANYONE EAT AND GO HOME AT DAWNAND THEY ALSO SPRAY ONLY WHEN THEY FEEL THREATENED I HAVE SKUNKS THAT HAVE COME SINCE THEY WERE BABIES AND I AM OUTSIDE AND THEY COME UP TO ME JUST TO GET A TREAT JUST LIKE A CAT OR DOG AND ALSO THEY ARE PRETTY LOOKINGS CREATURES MY ONLY WISH IS THAT THEY WOULD SPRAY MY NEIGHBOR WHO I CONSIDER THE ENEMY BECAUSE SHE DOES NOTHING BUT HARASS THEM THE RACCOONS AND SQUIRRELS KEEP COMING GUYS I LOVE HAVING YOU AS MY GUESTS

    I have a little skunk living

    I have a little skunk living in the storm drain at the end of my drive. So far, he or she hasn't bothered my garden that I know of. I had a swash disappear but judging from all the other treats in my yard (worms galore, slugs, insects, etc.) I doubt it was my stinky friend. The other night (very late)I was sitting on the stoop next to our car port and out of the corner of my eye I saw the skunk walking up towards me. It never even realized I was there until it was too late. In fear of being sprayed, I sat as still as possible hoping it would just walked on past me. Instead it decided to brush against my leg. I jumped higher than an NBA player and screamed like a little girl. I waited for the startled skunk to keep up to its name but thank god it didn't. I guess we were just formally meeting.

    I have a little skunk living

    Might have been an escaped domesticated skunk? He rubbed against your leg? Wow!

    skunks are one of the few

    skunks are one of the few animals I will never eat (could not get past the smell).
    There is not much you can do to get rid of skunks other than fence in your garden. Electrified fencing (one that works off solar panels are great) will usually work for most animals.

    Topics

    Report this bugMore information about the Big bug hunt

    Free Almanac Newsletters

    Weather, sky watch, gardening, recipes, good deals, and everyday advice!