About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do skunks hibernate?

I was walking my dog last night and I thought I saw a cat but now I think it was a skunk scuttling across the road. Don’t skunks hibernate? ~ Commerce Township, Michigan

There are 12 species of skunk worldwide. Michigan’s Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis is recognized easily by their black fur and white stripe that begins as a triangular shape on the top of the head, splits into two stripes down the sides of the back, and usually merges again near the base of the tail.

Insects make up 70% of their diet but they are true omnivores. Besides insects they eat small mammals, birds, vegetables, fruits, eggs, crustaceans, grasses, and carrion. They have a territory of about 3 miles with multiple dens in the ground or at the base of trees.

Skunks do not hibernate but can hole up in their burrow for weeks at a time if the weather is not good for foraging. Females often remain in their winter dens snuggled with other females and their young. Males are usually solitary for the entire winter in their own den.

Skunks were originally grouped inside the Mustelidae family (weasels, otters, badgers, and their relatives) because of the physical similarities but recent DNA tests revealed skunks make up their own special family of carnivores named Mephitidae after a word meaning stink. Skunks spray repellant scent from nipples in the anal gland that can be aimed precisely at any attacker.

Studies show that up to 90% of skunks die in their first winter. In the wild skunks may live to be 2 to 3 years old and up to 15 years in captivity. Great-horned owls and red-tailed hawks are their main predators but humans by far are their biggest threat. Skunks become so confident in their ability to repel threats, that when a car approaches they spray instead of getting out of the way.

To neutralize or deodorize skunk spray, the chemicals in the secretion must be changed to a different type of molecule. Tomato juice may mask the odor but does not remove the smell.

1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (from drug store)
1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
1 teaspoon of liquid detergent.

Scrub your pet thoroughly with solution and wait 5 minutes. Keep clear of your pet’s eyes and ears. Then rinse with water and repeat if necessary. The solution must be mixed and used immediately. DO NOT STORE IN A CLOSED CONTAINER - it releases oxygen gas so it could break the container. It also may bleach the pet's hair.

Some additional tips: Do this outside so the volatile skunk spray does not contaminate your house. To remove residual skunk odor from your clothes and any towels or rags used in this clean up procedure, wash them with one cup of liquid laundry bleach per gallon of water.

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