Note: This message is displayed if (1) your browser is not standards-compliant or (2) you have you disabled CSS. Read our Policies for more information.
Although a member of the mink and weasel family, the skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is not nearly as sleek and agile as its cousins. In fact, its tiny head and robust body perched on its stubby legs give them an awkward appearance when walking. The adult skunk may weigh from 4 to 6 pounds. Skunks have long, glistening black fur with a white mark across the forehead that forks into two white stripes down the back. Being a nocturnal creature, the skunk spends the daylight hours resting, venturing out only after nightfall in search of companionship and food. These nightly excursions rarely take them more than a quarter of a mile from their den. Skunks, like woodchucks, store layers of body fat prior to winter in order to sustain their hibernating bodies through the roughest of weather. Sometimes as many as 14 skunks will invite themselves to share a woodchuck’s burrow (the woodchuck seals itself into a private chamber). During midwinter weather, the male skunk will venture outside to search for food, but the female does not leave the den on these mid-winter forays.
The skunk is opportunistic in its feeding habits, eating just about any vegetable, animal or insect that it can get its paws on. It will raid chicken houses, animal nests, gardens, and lawns in search of eggs, rodents, young animals, insects and grubs. Although the skunk is an important controller of rodent and insect pests, its search for food often gets it into trouble when it uses its long fore claws to excavate lawns and golf greens.
Distribution and Abundance
The striped skunk is distributed throughout Indiana with the highest densities occurring in the pothole and natural lakes region of northwestern Indiana. It prospers in a wide variety of habitat types including wetland, forest, and agricultural edge.
In early spring, skunks emerge from hibernation and go their separate ways to begin the mating process. Skunks mate during the middle of March, with four to six mouse-sized young born 62 days later in May. The mother skunk protects her young from potential predators, which include great horned owls and other skunks. The young skunks follow their mother for the first few months of their existence, learning by imitation how to fend for themselves in the wild.
Although all mammals are possible vectors of the rabies virus, according to the Indiana State Board of Health, skunks are a major carrier of rabies in Indiana. By far, the greatest incidence of rabid skunks occurs in the southern third of Indiana.
Prevention and Control
Occasional sightings around neighborhoods should not be cause for alarm. When skunks take up residence around homes (usually under decks, barns and in crawl spaces), mild harassment is usually effective in convincing them to move elsewhere. Eliminate rodents found around your house by including removing access to crawl spaces and garages, reducing their food supply by storing pet food and bird seed in sealed containers, and reducing nesting materials by stacking firewood piles away from the house and keeping trash picked up.
If you know where the skunk has its den in a confined area, placing leaves or rags soaked in ammonia in that area will often do the job. Once the animal has left, make sure to permanently seal the entrance to prevent the skunk from gaining access again.
If you find a skunk trapped in a window well, place a rough board in the well that extends to the top and it will climb out on its own. If a skunk gets into the house, open a door and calmly allow it to exit. Don’t chase or excite the skunk.
Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap a skunk that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The skunk must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the skunks, if possible. Live-traps can be purchased from hardware stores and garden centers. If you do not want to trap the skunk yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.