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Smelling skunk? Tips to achieving olfactory relief

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The largest and most common skunk in Utah is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis).

About the size of a large house cat, it weighs four to five pounds. Striped skunks are black with two broad, white stripes running from the back of the head to the tip of the large, bushy tail.

The scent of a skunk can send a quick wave of panic through anyone. In addition to being infamous for spraying when threatened, this nocturnal mammal can also cause other problems. Consider this information:

  • Skunks will raid poultry houses for eggs and dig up lawns, golf courses and other sodded areas searching for white grubs and earthworms. They are also predators of waterfowl and game bird nests.

  • Skunks are a public health concern because they are the major wildlife carrier of rabies. This disease is widespread in the skunk population throughout Utah. The incubation period of rabies in infected animals is variable, but can be extremely long. The length an infected animal is actually transmissible also varies, ranging from three days to two weeks before the onset of symptoms. Once symptoms appear, the disease will normally kill the infected animal within a few days.

  • Diseased animals may display abnormal behavior such as a staggering, blundering walk, aggression toward people or animals or daylight activity. Skunks that display such abnormal behavior may be rabid and should be avoided or destroyed.

  • Skunks are protected under state law. However, they may be taken at any time without a hunting or furbearer license and by any method, provided local laws and ordinances are not violated, such as discharging firearms within city limits.

  • The best control for skunks around buildings is prevention. Do not allow them to establish themselves in or under buildings. All holes in foundations or other points of possible entry should be sealed using sheet metal, cement, hardware cloth or bricks.

  • If a skunk has already become established under a building, all openings but one should be sealed. Sprinkle a 2-foot square patch of flour in front of the remaining opening. Check the flour patch two to three hours after dark for tracks. If the tracks show that the skunk has left, seal the opening at once. When the skunk returns and cannot get back in, it will leave the area. This method should not be used in April, May or June since there is a chance that young skunks may be present and could be sealed in.

  • A skunk’s odor is its best line of defense — it is one of the most persistent and offensive odors in nature. Diluted solutions of vinegar or tomato juice can be used to remove most of the odor from pets, people and clothing. Clothing can also be soaked in weak solutions of ammonia. If the mishap occurs while camping, clothing can be smoked over a juniper fire.

  • If you happen to get sprayed in the eyes, a burning sensation and temporary blindness will likely occur. Recovery time can be hastened by rinsing the eyes with cold water.

  • Walls, rooms or other areas that have been sprayed by a skunk can be treated with neutroleum alpa. If the chemical is not available through local cleaning supply stores, check on-line. Also, many cleaning stores now have products that can remove the odor.

  • In spite of the problems they can cause, skunks do have some benefit. Their chief economic advantage is that they consume large numbers of harmful pests such as cutworms, armyworms, grasshoppers, white grubs and field mice.

  • For more information on how to cope with skunks in your area, contact your local county Extension agent for a copy of the Extension bulletin, “Skunks,” or visit the Extension Web site at http://extension.usu.edu/.

Posted on 18 Jul 2006

Terry Messmer
Professor & Wildlife Resource Specialist

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