Skunks can be both a blessing and a curse. They are mostly carnivorous and feed on rodents considered harmful to humans like moles, shrews, ground squirrels, rats, mice and other small mammals.
While skunks are an important source of insect control, most human and skunk interactions don’t go very well. Skunks carry various diseases harmful to both humans and domesticated animals, such as rabies, tularemia, and distemper. Additionally, they can host disease-causing parasites such as fleas, mites, ticks, and tapeworms.
The easiest way to control or prevent skunks from taking hold in an area is exclusion. Ensure there are no holes next to structures where they may be able to create a den. These can be filled with dirt or concrete, or covered with a sturdy wire mesh. If skunks have already taken up residence, tracking patches can help provide intelligence on where and how many. Make sure that all are out before excluding entry. Another way to discourage habitation is the removal of cover which the skunks may find appealing: brush, woodpiles, lush vegetation, old vehicles, etc.
Commonly referred to as polecats, striped skunk are about the size of domestic house cats, measuring 21-28 inches in total length and weighing from 3-11 pounds. As one of the most recognizable mammals anywhere, striped skunks are known for their black fur and characteristic white stripes on their head and down their back. There is considerable variation in striping patterns including a broad stripe, narrow stripe, pair of stripes, or a short stripe.
Coloration can vary as some striped skunks will have very little white while other are almost completely white. Peak breeding activity for striped skunks occurs during February and March. Males are polygamous (having more than one mate at a time). As with most mustelids, delayed implantation occurs following breeding resulting in a synchrony of births during May and June after a 64-day gestation period. Litter sizes range from 2 – 10 skunks or “kittens” with six being the average size.
Skunks are often considered nuisances, especially when they choose to den underneath homes, dig cone-shaped holes in yards looking for grubs, or simply the smell of their odor of being in the area. Making the area unattractive to skunks is one of the best ways to resolve nuisance issues. Steps to preventing nuisance skunk situations include: installing barriers to prevent skunks from getting underneath your home, not leaving pet food outside, removal of brush piles, and spraying your yard for grubs.
Skunks are a significant carrier of rabies in the United States. This status, as well as their propensityto use urbanized areas, makesthem a seriouspotential source of human exposure to rabies. Other zoonotic diseases and parasites carried by skunks include leptospirosis and an intestinal roundworm– Baylisascaris columnaris. These diseases, in addition to distemper, canine hepatitis, fleas, ticks,lice, and mites can cause problems for pets as well.
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