Having to put up with any kind of pest can be a nuisance, but skunks are in a league all their own. Not only do they emit a stinky, long-lasting odor, but they can cause all sorts of property damage and, because they’re prone to rabies, may pose a health risk to pets and small children. Although this nocturnal, somewhat timid animal isn’t much of a problem in urban landscapes, it’s found in residential neighborhoods, suburbs and rural areas throughout the United States.
If skunks are hanging around your property, chances are it’s where they’ve found a continuous food supply, adequate shelter or both. Finding out what’s attracting skunks to your property is a first step toward getting rid of them.
Skunks are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. Although they prefer the in-ground larvae of insects like beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and yellow jackets, skunks will also eat mice, rats, ground squirrels, garden produce and bees, and will occasionally eat small birds, ground-nesting birds’ eggs and chicken eggs. Like raccoons, they’ll also eat pet food that’s been left outside and garbage from an unsecured can.
Because skunks are active from twilight until dawn, they need a safe place to sleep during the day. They often choose to live somewhere along the edge of their territory. Skunks are known to take over dens that have been abandoned by woodchucks, foxes or badgers, but they’ll also make their own den in brush piles, along fences, near stone walls and under porches or other elevated structures.
Mothballs as a Repellent
Mothballs are commonly recommended as a simple, inexpensive means to repel unwanted animals, including skunks. While it’s true that skunks don’t like the smell of mothballs, the pesticide shouldn’t be used to deter skunks or any other animal, for three reasons:
- Using mothballs against skunks is illegal. Mothballs are
a pesticide designed to kill moths and similar pests that infest and eat
clothes or fabric. They’re meant to be placed in a tightly sealed container
with the infested material. Because the pesticide and its use are regulated by
the Environmental Protection Agency, using the product in a way that’s not
recommended on its label is against the law.
- Mothballs are toxic. The pesticide is almost entirely
made up of its active ingredient, which may be naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene.
As mothballs slowly dissolve in the air, they emit a toxic vapor, which is what you
inhale when you smell them. When used outside, they pose serious danger to young children,
pets and wild animals that may mistake them for candy or food. They
can also contaminate soil and water.
- Mothballs are only effective for a short amount of time. Once they dissolve into the air -- a process that's hastened by
rain -- you must scatter fresh mothballs to maintain the repellent. While scattering
mothballs around a skunk’s den or food source may keep it away for a few days,
it isn’t likely to encourage the animal to find a new den or food source.
More Effective Deterrents
When skunks can’t access their den or an ample supply of food, they’re more likely move on to new territory.
Sealing the Den
If you’re able to locate a den on your property, wait until the skunks are out of it -- in warmer months, often by twilight but usually by dusk -- before you attempt to block the entrance. Skunks typically make dens under porches by entering a hole in the wall or siding, or digging under it. You can cover such entrances with a piece of well-secured wire mesh. The wire mesh should extend at least 6 inches below ground, with the bottom end bent outward at a 90-degree angle, to help prevent the animal from digging its way back into the space.
Skunks are solitary animals, except during mating season. They generally mate from mid-February until mid-March, and females usually give birth in May or early June. Because the babies won’t venture out of the den until they’re almost two months old, be extra careful when checking a den during the summer. Contrary to popular belief, baby skunks can spray.
Cutting Access to Food
If the skunks you find hanging around your property haven’t made a den there, they’re probably finding sustenance. Bring pet food in at night. Keep tight lids on your garbage cans because, even though they don’t usually climb, they’ll find a way to get to your garbage if it’s not secure. Putting a short, deeply sunk fence around your vegetable garden should be enough keep them out of the entire patch.
Skunks dig conical holes in search of grubs, so if you find your lawn filled with wide holes that taper down to a point, they were probably made by skunks. Getting rid of the grubs they feed on can encourage skunks to move on. Contact your local cooperative extension service to find out which grub-control products it recommends and how to use them.
Going a Step Further
Sometimes, particularly if you live in a residential neighborhood, skunks may simply need to cross your property to get from their den to their preferred food source. Although traveling skunks don’t stay long and don’t tend to inflict much damage, they can still emit a strong odor as they pass, and that in itself can be a nuisance. While you may not be able to deter them from either their den or their food, you may be able to scare them away from your property by installing motion-sensor flood lights.