When cooler weather arrives, homeowners have to be extra cautious about wildlife and rodents coming to nest on their property. While skunks usually won’t nest in your home, you could find them nesting around your property, especially in the wintertime. But, why is that? Don’t skunks hibernate?
Skunks don’t necessarily hibernate, but they are considered dormant during the winter months, meaning that you likely won’t see these creatures in your yard during the coldest months of the year. This time period is scientifically known as torpor, and skunks will fall into this state as the temperature drops and food starts becoming scarce. A skunk’s body temperature will lower and their metabolism slows. Unlike an animal that is in hibernation, these creatures will remain inactive for short periods of time—typically during the day.
You may be wondering: If skunks are essentially asleep for the majority of the winter, why do I need to be extra cautious about them? Well, skunks usually have communal dens in the winter in order to keep warm, and this holds especially true with a mother skunk and her babies. So, if you, your children or your pets accidentally wake up a protective skunk mom, she may spray her “attacker”.
Also, skunks tend not to wander too far from their nests, so if your backyard is a home for a mother skunk and her babies in the winter, you’re likely to have them nearby during the spring and summertime as well.
In other words, just because you haven’t been bothered by skunks during the colder months doesn’t mean they’ve taken off.
In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know as a homeowner with a skunk living on your property, including these creatures’ sleeping patterns, whether they’re aggressive and how to keep these uninvited guests away from your property. But first, we’ll discuss how skunks behave during the other three seasons.
How Do Skunks Behave In Different Seasons?
Skunk behavior changes significantly, depending on the season. In the early springtime, they seek out mates for breeding. Gestation periods for skunks last about two months, so baby skunks will emerge in the late spring. Females are capable of having two litters a year, so if you’re the unfortunate host to a skunk family, that could mean double the amount of these babies on your property.
During the summer months, skunks raise their young and search for food. Baby skunks born in April or May won’t leave the den until late August, so they spend their first summer learning how to search for food, make a den and find a mate of their own.
Once the first-born skunks have left the den, it’s time to stock up on food. During autumn, skunks focus on eating, packing on a thick layer of fat during this time so they can survive throughout the winter. These creatures are omnivores, so you may see a skunk eating plants, insects, rodents and frogs.
Despite their activity from spring to fall, you likely won’t spot a skunk while going about your daily business.
Are Skunks Nocturnal?
Yes, skunks are nocturnal, so they tend to wait until the sun goes down to hunt for food. Baby skunks don’t mind a little bit of sunlight here and there, but once they reach adulthood, you won’t see them until the evening.
There are a few occasions for which skunks do come out during the day:
- If they have been scared out of their den
- If a high level of nocturnal pests and critters in the area make it hard to hunt for food at night
- If they have found a particularly delicious food source that only appears during the day
- If they are about to give birth or they have recently had babies
- If they are rabid
The most common scenario is the first. Family pets are most likely to scare skunk families out of their homes. Foxes, cougars and coyotes typically eat skunks, so if they’re running from predators on your property, you likely have much bigger problems to tackle.
If you’ve been noticing odd things around your backyard that could point to the sign of a skunk—such as lawn problems or St. Augustine grass problems, a bad odor and a chewed-up vegetable garden—but no skunk, is there another way to see if there is a skunk actively living on your property?
What Does A Skunk Den Look Like?
Since temperatures drop in the winter, skunks are on the lookout for places that will provide adequate warmth throughout the season. When it comes to finding a home, skunks can be relatively lazy and will look for holes that have already been created for them, such as an old fox den if they’re in a rural area. To protect themselves from predators, skunks often choose nesting spots that look like nothing out of the ordinary, such as under piles of leaves or under logs.
When it comes to skunks on your property, homeowners should be on the lookout for dens underneath their porch, deck or shed, because these areas are close to the heated home and provide a safe hideaway from predators. These underground areas are the best places for skunk families to spend the winter months. Skunks may also block the entrance to their den with grass in order to keep the space warm. As previously mentioned, since skunks remain inactive over this time, they den together and stay close to generate even more heat.
Because these dens are discreet, it can be difficult to determine if you’ve found a skunk den or just an old pile of leaves.
Testing For Skunk Dens
There are two easy ways to test whether or not there are skunks living around the area.
If you have found an area that might lead to a skunk den, fill it up with newspaper in the early evening. Since skunks are nocturnal, they are more likely to try and search for food or get around at night. Check the area the next morning to see if the paper was moved around. This likely means a family of skunks has tried to leave their den, or they came back to the den during the night.
Another way to test for skunks is to look for prints. If you think you see an entrance to the den, place a thick layer of flour around the area. Like the newspaper test, you can check the next morning for evidence of skunks. Skunk tracks look like small bear tracks: They have a long foot and dots in front of each toe. If you see these, it’s time to take some action.
When testing for skunk dens, be extremely cautious. As previously discussed, if a skunk sees you as a predator they will spray you. But will they bite you?
Do Skunks Bite?
Healthy skunks are generally not aggressive creatures, and they would prefer to spray you and run away than face their attacker.
Unfortunately, skunks with rabies are likely to bite you and, if they do, they can transmit this disease to you. This is the most significant risk that comes with having skunks on your property. Skunks accounted for one-fifth of all reported cases of rabies in the U.S. in 2017.
Some signs that a skunk on your property is rabid include:
- Being active during the daytime
- Being extremely vocal
- Having seizures
- Stumbling around
Another thing to keep in mind is that symptoms of rabies can take anywhere from three to six weeks to appear, and once the symptoms are present, there is no effective cure. If a skunk bites you, one of your family members or your pet, head to a medical professional immediately to be evaluated, just to be safe.
Of course, all risks that come along with skunks can be avoided if you’re able to keep these creatures off your property.
How To Deter Skunks: Dos And Don’ts
You might be surprised to learn that skunks are protected under many states’ laws. Because of this, you need to know the dos and don’ts of deterring and removing skunks before you take any action against these unwelcome guests.
Do Make Your Property Less Attractive To Skunks
Skunks typically don’t dig their own burrows—they look for dens left by foxes and other animals or any other cavernous space that will fit their family. If you want to get rid of skunks, you have to make the areas around your property less tempting for a skunk looking or possible nesting spots.
Secure entryways so skunks can’t get in or remove any debris in your yard that might look comfy to skunk families. Raise woodpiles and garbage bins so skunks won’t be tempted to live and hunt for food there. Skunks won’t travel more than two miles for water, so fix any leaks or address any areas where moisture may collect and provide skunks with reason to stick around.
Don’t Try To Remove Skunks Yourself
Dogs get sprayed by skunks because their presence threatens the skunk. If you try to remove a skunk from its home, you too might be on the receiving end of the byproduct of a skunk’s stinky glands.
Do Familiarize Yourself With Fur-Bearing Laws
These little critters probably don’t seem very helpful, but farmers appreciate having a skunk or two on their property. Trappers and hunters also like skunks, but only because they want to sell their fur. Many states categorize skunks as fur-bearing animals, therefore, they are protected like other fur-bearing animals, such as otters, badgers and beavers. Review your local fur-bearing regulations before you try to handle a skunk problem on your property.
Don’t Ignore The Problem
Identifying skunk nests and removing these creatures from your property can take a lot of work. But don’t put off this process just because it’s tedious. After their dormant period, skunks quickly look for mates and start to grow their families. Female skunks produce up to six babies in each litter. While you procrastinate, the skunk population on your property could be growing. Don’t let this happen.
Also, with larger pests like skunks can come secondary infestations from smaller pests. For example, if you have fleas in your house but no pets, you could have a skunk with a flea problem living on your property.
ABC Can Handle Your Skunk Problem
There are too many risks involved in handling a skunk problem on your own: skunks could spray, you could be skirting the law and you might not be able to get rid of all of the skunks on your property on your own. For effective skunk removal and prevention, turn to the experts. Homeowners trust the team at ABC Home & Commercial Services to safely and legally remove skunks and take the necessary steps to prevent future infestations. With ABC’s help you won’t have to worry about skunks stinking up your property.