Information on this page includes:

  1. Biology and Identification
  2. Reducing conflict where we live
  3. Reducing conflict where we work
  4. Reducing conflict where we play
  5. Reducing conflict where we grow

There are two species of skunk in British Columbia: the Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis), which can be found throughout much of the province and the less common Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) which is found in the Lower Mainland. Skunks can be found in a wide range of habitats, but prefer open areas and forest edges . These small mammals are highly adaptive and easily habituated to living near humans, enabling them to thrive in urban and suburban areas.

Skunks are opportunistic omnivores, feeding upon a wide variety of foods including insects, plants, berries, rodents and eggs. Because of their voracious appetite for insects and rodents, they can provide an effective form of pest control in agricultural areas. Infamous for their distinctive smell, skunks spray a pungent liquid into the face of potential predators as an effective defense mechanism.

To reduce the potential for conflict with any wildlife, it is important to understand a bit about the life history and habits of th species. Read on to learn more about skunks and how to prevent human-skunk conflicts where we live, work, play and grow.

The Striped Skunk

• The striped skunk is easily recognizable by bright white stripes that run the length of its otherwise black body and tail.

• Skunks can grow as long as 80cm in total length and typically weigh between 2-4 kilograms.

• Skunks are mainly crepuscular which means they are most active at dawn and dusk and spend the daytime hours in underground burrows.

• Skunks breed in the late winter or early spring months, and females give birth to litters of 4-7 young in early May.

• Skunks rarely dig their own burrows, preferring to use abandoned dens of other animals, or by finding crevices and gaps under porches or buildings.

• Skunks have long, sharp claws on their front feet which serve as effective tools for digging for mice, grubs and other underground prey.

• Skunks spend the winter months in deep underground dens in a state of inactivity. While solitary for the rest of the year, skunks may den in groups of up to twenty individuals.

• Like all members of the weasel family, skunks have musk glands near the anus for marking their territory. Skunks are unique in that they can spray this musk when threatened to a distance of up to 6m. Skunks reserve this effective defense mechanism as a last resort as it takes over a week for the musk to be replenished once discharged.

• Aside from Great Horned Owls, few predators will hunt skunks due to the risk of being sprayed. As a result, skunks have a relatively long lifespan for a small mammal, living up to 6 years on average.

Reducing Conflict Where We Live

Skunks are typically shy, timid animals, but given their tendency to live in urban and suburban settings, they can sometimes come into conflict with humans. Skunks can thrive in backyards and farm fields, sleeping away the daylight hours under a porch or shed and coming out in the evenings to dig for grubs and hunt for mice. Being opportunistic omnivores, skunks can also be attracted into yards by things like unsecured garbage, fallen birdseed, windfall fruit and pet food.

One of the major problems with skunks (apart from being sprayed by them) is their penchant for digging up lawns in their hunt for grubs and worms.

While skunks can become quite comfortable around humans, if cornered, startled or threatened by humans or their pets, skunks may spray their pungent musk as a defense. As anyone who has experienced this knows, this pungent spray is very difficult to get rid of, whether on your dog, your clothing or even just lingering in the air! Because of this, people are often hesitant to have skunks living in the yard.

Reducing conflicts with skunks (and indeed, all wildlife) is all about managing attractants responsibly and discouraging wildlife from becoming too comfortable in your yard. Please read on to learn more about preventing conflicts with skunks.

Garbage

• Keep all garbage securely stored until the day of collection. Skunks are not skilled climbers, so keeping garbage securely stored in bins will effectively prevent access. Keeping garbage securely stored indoors will keep it inaccessible to all the wildlife in your neighbourhood.

• Ensure bins are tightly closed.

• Regularly wash all recycling items and clean the bins that contain garbage or recycling.

• If you cannot store garbage securely, freeze smelly items and add to the bin only on the morning of collection.

Fruit trees and berry bushes

• Manage your fruit trees and berry bushes responsibly and pick all fruit as it ripens.

• Ensure windfalls do not accumulate below the trees or shrubs.

Birdfeeders

• Take birdfeeders down until winter to avoid attracting unwanted visitors. Store all feed indoors.

• When birdfeeders are up, ensure fallen seed does not accumulate below the feeders.

Pets and Pet Food

• Feed pets indoors, or if fed outdoors, take in any feed that is not immediately eaten.

• Store all food securely inside.

Dogs

• Dogs are often sprayed after chasing or otherwise harassing skunks. If you know you have a resident skunk on your property, use caution when letting dogs out after dark.

To prevent access to your home and outbuildings:

• Seal up any holes or potential entrances around the exterior of your house and other buildings. This should not be done between May and August to avoid separating family units that may already be inside.

• If you want to exclude a skunk from an occupied den, it is best to do so after dark when you know the skunk has left. Alternatively, you can fix a hinged piece of mesh wire over the entrance that an animal can push to get out of the den, but cannot get back in. Keep in mind there is usually more than one entrance to a den.

• In order to make your property less inviting to skunks, you may want to remove other habitat features from your property including brush piles, long grasses and woodpiles.

• You may be able to encourage an unwanted skunk to move out of a den by placing a bright light or radio in or near the den site. Seal up the entrances once the animal vacates.

Reducing Conflict Where We Work

Skunks are timid animals and are not often seen during the day. As such, people working in the field are not likely to run into skunks, but can still take steps to avoid potential conflicts.
When threatened, a skunk may stomp its feet and hiss but will only spray as a last resort. An indicator that a skunk is about to spray is when the animal bends its body into a “U”shape, with both its face and raised tail facing its target. If you happen to encounter a skunk at close range, conflict can be avoided by calmly giving the animal a wide berth.

Read on for more ways to reduce the potential for conflicts with skunks while working in the backcountry:

• Keep dogs on leash or under reliable voice control to avoid unwanted encounters with skunks. Dogs are often sprayed after chasing or harassing a skunk.

• If you pack it in, pack it out. Never leave any garbage or food behind in the wilderness as even a half-eaten granola bar or apple core could lead to skunks and other wildlife associating humans with food.

• Campsites should be kept clean and free of any food scraps or garbage at all times.

• Skunks can become easily habituated to humans and often appear quite tame. Never feed skunks as this will add to their habituation and increase the likelihood of future conflicts.

• Never attempt to approach a skunk. Always give skunks a wide berth to avoid causing the animal undue stress that could result in your getting sprayed.

If either you or your dog is sprayed, rinsing in a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda and Dish Soap can help neutralize the smell.

Reducing Conflict Where We Play

It is very unlikely that you will run across a skunk while out hiking, biking, or otherwise recreating, but it is always good to know how to reduce the potential for conflict.

If you happen to encounter a skunk at close range, conflict can be avoided by calmly giving the animal a wide berth. When threatened, a skunk may stomp its feet and hiss but will only spray as a last resort. An indicator that a skunk is about to spray is when the animal bends its body into a “U”shape, with both its face and raised tail facing its target.

Read on for more ways to prevent conflict with skunks while recreating in the great outdoors:

• Keep dogs on leash or under reliable voice control to avoid unwanted encounters with skunks. Dogs are often sprayed after chasing or harassing a skunk.

• If you pack it in, pack it out. Never leave any garbage or food behind in the wilderness as even a half-eaten granola bar or apple core could lead to skunks and other wildlife associating humans with food.

• Campsites should be kept clean and free of any food scraps or garbage at all times.

• Skunks can become easily habituated to humans and often appear quite tame. Never feed skunks as this will add to their habituation and increase the likelihood of future conflicts.

• Never attempt to approach a skunk. Always give skunks a wide berth to avoid causing the animal undue stress that could result in your getting sprayed.

If either you or your dog is sprayed, rinsing in a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda and Dish Soap can help neutralize the smell.

Reducing Conflict Where We Grow

Skunks are very common in agricultural areas and small farms, which can be at once beneficial and also a nuisance. Skunks have a voracious appetite for a wide variety of agricultural pests and hunt mice and other small rodents as well. However, as opportunistic omnivores, skunks have also been known to raid chicken coops for eggs and the birds themselves. It is possible to coexist with skunks by managing attractants carefully.

• Seal up any holes or potential entrances to outbuildings and chicken coops and be sure to shut doors overnight.

• Use a properly maintained electric fence if you keep chickens, bees or small livestock.

• Store all feed in a secure location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants.

• Keeping small livestock closed up overnight can go a long way in reducing predation by skunks and other predators.

• Motion-activated lights, sprinklers or even radios may help deter skunks from foraging in gardens, lawns and orchards.

• Carefully securing other wildlife attractants like garbage, birdseed and unpicked fruit can also reduce skunk activity on your property.

*While skunks are known carriers of rabies in other Provinces, there have been no recorded cases of rabies found in skunks in British Columbia.