Wasn’t the past week fun, shellacked with over a foot of that white stuff and temperatures that fell way
below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Have you noticed the daylight is gradually getting longer? Weather
indicators have our temperatures gradually returning to normal.
Though a bit late this year, the skunk mating season is about to get underway.
Normally, mid-February through early April is the skunk mating season. Though we may see an increase of
skunks during this time of year, it is often the skunk smell in the air that announces their presence.
Skunks do not hibernate. During frigid snowy days, they become dormant or semi-active. They may remain in
their dens for days, even weeks, depending on the weather conditions. Several females may den together,
while males are often solitary.
Once the weather breaks, male skunks leave their dens and will travel far and wide in search of females,
which accounts for the increase in sightings and smellings this time of year. During these travels and
times of increased activity, skunks are more likely to encounter threats and, therefore, spray.
Skunks spray for the primary reason of defense from a perceived threat. That threat could be a human,
pet, or another wild animal. Skunks are particularly defensive during the breeding season, when males
are competing for females, or defending a harem of females from another male. Females are also very
defensive during this time, especially if she has already mated and another male wants to mate with her,
and she may spray a male in this case.
Most skunks will spray as a last resort. Before a skunk sprays, it will often make various noises
(grunts, snarls, growls, or hisses), then assume a defensive position (arched back and stamping front
feet while shuffling backwards) before spraying. The spray is dispelled from two scent glands located on
either side of the anal area. Skunks are very accurate in their aim, so beware.
The best way to discourage skunks from coming into the yard is to remove any attractants. This general
rule applied to all wildlife coming into backyards. They are there for a reason, and that reason is
usually food or shelter. Some examples of food and shelter attractants for skunks:
Food: Pet food, bird feeders, beehives, and garbage
Shelter: Rock or log piles, brush piles, openings under buildings, porches, and decks
Why do skunks smell so bad? Skunk spray contains Thiol, an organic compound with sulfur as the principal
component. Sulfur has that classic rotten egg smell, and it is what gives thiol its gag-inducing power.
Thiols are also used in the natural gas industry. Natural gas is an odorless gas. Thiols are added to
give the gas the detectable odor. Skunk spray consists of three separate thiols mixed.
Now we know exactly why skunk spray smells so bad! Who really cares, though? If you or your pet gets
sprayed, you will care extremely fast. So, the trick is to neutralize the thiols. Tomato juice may mask
the smell; however, the smell may linger for some time. The best neutralizing material to wash clothes
and pets was developed by chemists studying the effects of thiols.
Mix 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide with a ¼ cup of baking soda and two teaspoons of dishwashing liquid.
Bathe your pet in this for about five minutes, constantly rubbing it into your pet’s fur. You may have
to use a sponge to get your pet’s chin, cheeks, etc. Just make sure you do not get it in your pet’s
eyes. The smell should start to dissipate. If it does not go away completely, rinse off your pet, mix a
new batch and do it again. This same recipe may be used on clothes.
Miles Phillips Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist with Texas Agrilife Extension Service gives a
historical use for skunks. Historically, skunk oil was used for medicinal purposes. Skunk oil is an oil
that is removed from the fatty tissue along the skunk’s back. Native Americans used it and introduced it
to the European explorers. It has moisturizing properties. Some Indians used it to cure poison ivy. It
is most common medicinal use, though, was to treat coughs. Like any liniment, it has a mildly warming
reaction, which supposedly opens the airways, curing the cough.
Wow, now we know about skunks, their smell, and how to cure poison ivy. Enjoy the skunks.