Scent-sational Skunks

February 1, 2018

Skunks can be found just about everywhere in North America. The most common, the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), lives in southern Canada, most of the United States, and parts of northern Mexico.

Because it somewhat resembles a house cat in size and appearance, the skunk has earned the nicknames polecat, stink cat, and wood pussy. However, it actually belongs to a different family, Mustelidae, which includes muskrats, weasels, and minks.

Skunks have few enemies thanks to their unique defense system. Like other mustelids, skunks have two scent glands on their posterior that produce a pungent odor. But only the skunk can accurately squirt the vile liquid up to 12 feet.

A slow, lumbering gait combined with poor eyesight make a skunk appear fearless as it prowls the night in search of a meal, but it takes a lot to provoke one. This docile animal, when cornered or protecting its young, will first give warning by stomping the ground with its front feet; it will then hiss and arch its tail over its back. If the attacker continues, the skunk will let go with either one or both scent barrels, which are capable of six shots each. If the spray hits the attacker’s eyes, it causes a burning sensation and often temporary blindness that may last 10 to 15 minutes. The chemical in the spray responsible for the putrid odor is the sulfide mercaptan, which may linger in an animal’s fur for a month or more.

If your pet is sprayed, bathe it as soon as possible (preferably outside) with pet or baby shampoo. If a skunk sprays your pet’s eyes, flush the eyes with plenty of water. Time-tested deodorizers include everything from vanilla extract to tomato juice or vinegar. Always rinse off your pet’s fur after using these.

A skunk is a great mouser, and also helps to keep grounds and roadsides free of carrion and fallen fruit. Its role in controlling harmful insects is what really earns the skunk its stripes, however. The animal will feed on plant pests such as cutworms, beetles, grubs, grasshoppers, and potato bugs, and occasionally even on scorpions and black widow spiders. A skunk’s best attribute, however, is its generosity. After all, what other animal would give its last scent to an enemy?

Reader Comments

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I know Spring is coming. I've already smelled them a few times this year (yes...I sleep with my bedroom window open a bit all winter).

Under Cottage Skunk Deterrant

Is there a way to keep skunks from making a home under our summer cottage. I heard Mothballs spread around helps, but my husband says that is a wives tail.

expunging skunks from under your cabin

Ammonia. When I lived in Taos, there was an abundance of skunks and we did an entire TV show about home remedies to get rid of them. We interviewed people who recommended everything from red fox urine (in a bottle) to mothballs and playing loud music. We tested everything but found the only thing that actually worked was ammonia spray. Put it in a bottle with water and spray heavily - all around the perimeter of the building. Beware, if skunks have taken up under the building, there are (generally) three entrances/exits. I used a gallon of ammonia and it moved the skunk family UP THE PLUMBING into the kitchen/sink cabinet and later the washer water line (during the night.) Skunks are nocturnal.

Other names for skunks

Back when Dodge had Fluid Drive transmissions, we use to call skunks two-toned pussycats with fluid drive.
Thanks for the interesting article. I never run off a skunk. They help keep the ground moles down by eating the grubs and other insects.

skunk odor

I buy a product called SKUNK KLEEN, BY G.G.BEAN,at my local drug store. it costs 10$,and is odorless,nontoxic,and very effective.

If you have a doggy door

How do you get the scent out of your house if your dog has been sprayed and comes inside?

Skunk odor

The Editors's picture

That’s a challenge! Here’s a recipe for skunk odor removal. Test it first so it doesn’t discolor anythin!

Solution for Skunk Odor Removal

Mix 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon liquid soap. Do not add water. This solution can be used to wash skin, clothes, dogs, etc. that have been sprayed by skunks. Due to the peroxide, the solution may lighten the fur of pets.

While the solution will get rid of the smell faster than letting it “weather”, it won’t get rid of the smell overnight. And repeat applications will likely be necessary. 


Interesting article but how do get rid of them?

Skunk Control

The Editors's picture

Hi James, Here’s our Almanac article on how to identify and control skunks: Hope this helps!