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Species: Skunk

Protection Level
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Federally Protected No
State Protected No
VA Nuisance Species No

 


Spring is the season when many gardeners and homeowners start thinking about managing skunk problems. First, it helps to have some idea as to why skunks are coming into your yard and what they are doing, aside from "digging up the lawn." In most instances, skunks are seeking, and obviously have found, reliable food sources, especially insects, such as earthworms and the large, white grubs of the Japanese beetle. Although you may be successful in removing the offending animal doing the damage, in a short time, another likely will arrive to replace it. As long as reliable food is available, skunks and other animals will continue to utilize it. Thus, permanent elimination of skunk problems may not be possible

Identification and Distribution
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Striped Skunk
Mephitis mephitis

More Photos

Mephitis mephitis

 

county distribution map for Mephitis mephitis

Spotted Skunk
Sspilogale putorius

More Photos

 

 

county distribution map for Sspilogale putorius


 



Legal
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In Virginia both the spotted and striped skunk are considered fur-bearer species typically meaning that fur-bearers can only be taken during a set trapping season. However 4VAC15-220-10 states that there is a continuous open season on striped skunks. The state code defines "open season" as that period of time fixed by the Board during which wild animals, wild birds and fish may be taken, captured, killed, pursued, trapped or possessed (29.1-100). A spotted skunk may be take only if it is or about to cause depredation to a landowners property (4VAC15-220-20). As with all wildlife it is illegal to relocate skunks to any area other than the property it was caught on. A landowner should use lethal alternatives only after all non-lethal controls have been exhausted.

In Virginia it is illegal to

  • destroy or molest the dens or young of a skunk. 29.1-521
  • set a trap where it would be likely to injure persons, dogs, stock or fowl. 29.1-521
  • not visit all traps once each day and remove all animals caught. 29.1-521
  • transport, release, or relocate a skunk anywhere other than the property it was caught on. 4VAC15-30-50
  • poison any animal (including skunk) other than rats and mice on your property. 4VAC15-40-50

In Virginia it is legal to

  • shoot skunks on your property outside of the trapping season, 29.1-517
  • take a striped skunk at any time of year, 4VAC15-220-10
  • to kill a spotted skunk that is in the process of or about to cause damage to their property. 4VAC15-220-20

 

Management Options
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First, it helps to have some idea as to why skunks are coming into your yard and what they are doing, aside from "digging up the lawn." In most instances, skunks are seeking, and obviously have found, reliable food sources, especially insects, such as earthworms and the large, white grubs of the Japanese beetle. Although you may be successful in removing the offending animal doing the damage, in a short time, another likely will arrive to replace it. As long as reliable food is available, skunks and other animals will continue to utilize it. Thus, permanent elimination of skunk problems may not be possible.

Fencing is an option, but homeowners sometimes object to its use for aesthetic reasons or may not know how to erect a fence properly. "Properly" means burying the fence 6 to 8 inches and extending an "L" out away from the base of the fence an additional 8 to 10 inches. Skunks are efficient diggers and readily will dig under an improperly installed fence in a matter of minutes. Another option that often is as effective as burying a fence is to erect a single strand of electric fencing, or a "hot wire," at the base of a conventional fence, approximately 3 to 4 inches above the ground. When the animal approaches the fence to dig at its base and comes in contact with the electrified wire, the animal receives an unpleasant, but harmless, shock on its nose. This experience often is sufficient to prevent further attempts by the animal. Use of electrified fence material is not recommended in areas where small children have free access to it and any application of electrified materials must have clearly posted warnings alerting people to its presence and use.

According to current EPA guidelines, naphthalene (the active ingredient in mothballs) is not registered for use as a repellent on skunks, although many people use and continue to recommend it. However, naphthalene is ineffective in outdoor applications as a repellent and should not be recommended as such. The only product currently registered (federal standards) for use on skunks is the sodium nitrate gas cartridge, used to treat burrows. Because they are considered a combustible device, never use a gas cartridge in burrows located beneath or immediately adjacent to a building or in areas dominated by heavy, dry vegetation to avoid a potential for fire.

The most effective solution to managing skunk problems is to make your lawn/landscape unattractive to skunks by eliminating protective cover, potential sites used for denning, and food sources (e.g., accessible pet food dishes, uncovered garbage cans, unprotected compost piles). Look beneath raised decks and porches to see if you can find burrow openings there. These are favorite denning locations for skunks and groundhogs, particularly beneath structures having lattice-work or heavy landscaping covering the perimeter--they provide perfect cover and protection from predators. If you find a burrow and it appears fresh, you can check on the occupants by putting down a very thin sprinkling of baking flour around the opening or along any access points to the den. If it is occupied, you can identify the occupant by the tracks left in the flour (check a field guide to animal tracks available in most public libraries).

Regarding the use of live-trapping, it can be effective, but rarely will provide a permanent solution to problems caused by skunks for reasons identified earlier. Also, you should be prepared to trap on a regular basis. For skunks, a 10 inch x 10 inch x 32 inch cage trap (with a single operating door, not a two-door trap) is needed. For bait, try a can of cat food (fish type). Sardines work best, but often attract free-roaming cats in the neighborhood before a skunk has opportunity to investigate. Cover the trap with burlap, cloth, a plastic garbage bag, or other material before positioning the trap. Cover all but the last 3 to 4 inches of the top near the door. This will help calm the captured animal and also will provide some protection against being sprayed. State trapping regulations stipulate that traps must be checked at least once every 24 hours and any animals caught must be dispatched within that time period.

The relocation of nuisance animals in Virginia is illegal without authorized permit from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Thus, homeowners are not allowed to transport any wild animal from their property. Any nuisance animal caught must be released at the site of capture or humanely put to death. Relocation is not as humane as people believe. A high proportion of relocated animals perish during encounters with predators, motor vehicles, and other individuals of the same species as the displaced individual tries to return to the "home" territory. People also may be contributing unknowingly to the spread of infectious disease (e.g., rabies, distemper, parvovirus) by moving animals from contaminated areas to presently uninfected regions. Additionally, homeowners expose themselves to these diseases and are bitten or scratched when attempting to relocate nuisance animals.

Virginia Sources

Skunk Management, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Other Sources

Best practices for Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators in New York State

Coping with Skunks, Colorado State Cooperative Extension

Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife, Maryland Cooperative Extension (need to scroll to appropriate species)

Managing Skunk Problems in Kentucky, Kentucky Cooperative Extension

Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage-1994

Skunk Control and Management Information

Skunks,Urban Wildlife Damage Control, Kansas Cooperative Extension

 

 

Life History
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Life History information can be found at the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service Web page.

Striped Skunk
Spotted Skunk

Disease
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There are many diseases that wildlife species are capable of carrying and transferring to humans (zoonotic diseases). While all zoonotic diseases are a serious threat to humans this website will only address those that are a concern for Virginia residents.

Rabies