Anyone who has lived/lives in North America from Canada all the way to Central America (or Indonesia and the Philippines) for any length of time has probably encountered a skunk. Maybe it ran out in front of your car, maybe it scurried off into the woods as you were taking a walk, or maybe it ran under your hot tub deck just as you stepped out to take a pee. Whatever your encounter with this smelly (yet adorable) creature was, I’m sure you had the same reaction I did, Terror!
I had just stepped out of my hot tub (yup, that was me) and as I was standing there dripping, my local skunk ran right in front of me and under the very deck I was standing on. I stood there for a moment, frozen. ‘What do I do now?!?!’ I thought. Naked and freezing I slowly turned and quietly stepped back into the hot tub. I sat there for a moment, contemplating how I was going to get out. I watched around me in the dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of the little bugger scampering away. No such luck. I just sat there for a while. Finally I decided, the only way I was going to get to bed, was to risk it. I quietly pulled the cover back onto the tub, climbed out, grabbed my towel, and made a slow and silent run for it. I never heard him chatter at me (which my father says they do before they spray, most of the time anyway) and I made it to my room safely.
Others had similar experiences, others were not so lucky…
I was coming home one night, from rollerblading. Going back to my surf shop, in Maine. I had to cut across this gravel area behind my house to get onto my porch, about 40 yards long, in my Rollerblades. I stepped one foot onto the back porch before I noticed there were two skunks on my porch. They both turned, not intimidated, and stared at me. I promptly turned around and ran in my skates across the gravel road. The skunks proceeded to chase me. I got to the hardtop and skated away, stayed away for several hours, hoping the skunks would leave. But then I returned, the skunks were still there. So I just went in the front door. I later got rid of all the trash in the immediate area, and the skunks moved on to the near by restaurants for garbage.
Talk about a stench. My wife and I built a bedroom cabin on our original homestead piece (where our daughter lives now). There was a raised crawlspace under there, where we stored extra wood and the loose odds and ends. Well, one day a skunk family moved in. Now for those of you who think skunks are cute, well, you get close enough to one, they really are. But you know what? You don’t want to get close to one. But my dog did. We couldn’t sleep in our bedroom cabin for several days. And the dog, she was just exiled, screw the tomato juice thing.
P.S. You probably want to know how I got rid of the skunk. It was nothing heroic. I snuck up to the opening under the house, looked in, and there wasn’t any skunk. The dog went in too, just to be sure. I took a board, and closed up the opening. And that was that.
P.P.S. I actually did get sprayed but I won’t tell you that story (it’s not exactly sweet) and I certainly didn’t stick my nose up at the idea of tomato juice then.
Most people know the reason a skunk sprays is because it feels threatened. The skunk possesses two glands on either side of his anus. The horrible (and extremely memorable) smell comes from a sulfur-filled fluid that is released when the skunk senses danger. The distinct stripes and coloration of the skunk, and the ritualistic performance before a skunk sprays, are also warnings to animals. The skunk would prefer not to spray you, because they only have enough fluid for five or six uses, and it takes up to ten days to replenish their supply. However, if you do not heed the warning signs (chattering, foot stamping and dancing on front legs with the tail raised high) you had better watch out. They can spray up to 15 ft with deadly accuracy.
If you have a resident skunk, you can be pretty sure she or he is your only one. The females range up to 1.5 square miles, while the males can range up to 8 square miles. Skunks are loners by nature. During the winter season they burrow (if it is very cold the females may den with a number of other females, while the males frequently den alone) but in general they are singular animals. Although they are not your typical hibernators, they do become less active during the winter months. Their preferred time of day is dawn and dusk (making them crepuscular) and they have very poor eyesight, not being able to see clearly much past ten feet. But they do have excellent senses of smell and hearing. They are omnivores, and will eat just about anything; from berries, to carcasses, to cat food, to garbage.
Humans are not the only animals who fear the skunk. In fact, wolves, foxes, badgers and mountain lions all avoid skunks. The only serious natural predator who does not fear the stink of a skunk (beause like most birds, has a near to non-existent sense of smell) is the Great Horned Owl.
People have found many remedies to neutralize the stench. The most commonly know is the above mention by Steve about tomato juice. However this does not really work. Tomatoes do have a sufficient amount of oil to make it easier to wash out the fluid, and they smell of tomatoes themselves is strong enough to overpower the skunk smell, for a time. Another method is bleach. Of course this option is only good for surfaces you don’t care about changing color. Not for use on pets or people, obviously. And a third option is to make a concoction out of one pint hydrogen peroxide, a small box of baking soda and a couple squirts of any regular dishsoap into a gallon of water. Mix thoroughly and use immediately. It’ll keep for a little while but will lose its potency within an hour and if you leave in a covered container it will explode. CAUTION: hydrogen peroxide can blind your pet if gotten in the eyes.
Of course, time is the only real remedy. And of course, do everything you can to NOT get sprayed. On the bright side, you’ll have a good story to tell your grandkids (and blog readers).