Two species of skunks occur locally: the very familiar striped skunk and the much lesser known western spotted skunk (or civet cat).
The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), of “Pepe′ le Pew” fame, is native to Colorado and very common locally in some areas. They are about the size of a housecat, but much more stocky and compact. They are jet black in color, typically with two white stripes down the back, with a very bushy black and white tail. The peak of the breeding season is February locally, with rather large litters of 6-8 young being born in early May. Skunks are classified as carnivores, but are really omnivores in diet, eating most anything: insects, grubs/worms, mice, fruits, grain/seeds, pet food, garbage, etc. They love bird feeders! Although some neighborhoods have plenty of skunks, the overall local population has been reduced significantly in recent years due to increased vehicle traffic, periodic outbreaks of distemper and the Colorado Division of Wildlife requirement that skunks cannot be relocated. Due to the history of rabies in skunks and the recent reoccurrence in Colorado, captured skunks must be released or dispatched (i.e., euthanized) at the capture site. They cannot be transported to another location and released. Skunks are largely nocturnal and crepuscular (i.e., active at dusk or dawn).
The western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis) is smaller than its striped cousin and has pretty white splotches instead of the classic stripes. They, too, are omnivores, but are much more quick and agile predators than striped skunks. They are fairly common in the foothills and rocky areas up to 9,000 feet. They tend to breed in the fall, with litters being born in May.
In the wild, skunks dig and use earthen dens, but in suburban/urban areas it’s much more common for them to live under settled concrete (e.g., steps, patios, porches), in unfinished crawl spaces under homes (e.g., old homes, cabins, modulars), and under storage sheds. Tell-tale evidence of striped skunks is typically a half-moon shaped “dig-under,” roughly 10-12” wide and 4-5” deep. These classic dig-unders also indicate where skunks are entering a fenced yard. Striped skunks are not climbers.
If it wasn’t for the potent, very offensive odor of a skunk’s anal gland fluid, most people would not consider them to be a nuisance. Unfortunately, the yellowish, oily, sulfurous fluid that is ejected quite powerfully and accurately, can wreak havoc. It’s quite common for pets to get sprayed, skunks to squabble and spray under someone’s home, or one to die and decompose under a shed or mobile home. Fortunately most skunks are rather passive and only spray when startled or seriously threatened. Skunks also get into trouble when they dig (or “grub”) for worms in sod, fall into window wells or enter pet doors.
Disease also raises concerns about skunks. For example, distemper, though not contagious to humans, can cause unusual behavior. Skunks with advanced symptoms of distemper are often active during daylight and act sick, lethargic and disoriented. Their eyes and noses are often crusty looking. They are not usually aggressive. Skunks with rabies may exhibit similar symptoms but can be much more aggressive towards pets and people. The disease is transmitted by saliva through a bite. In cases of close contact, the skunk should be contained and the incident reported to the Environmental Section of your local health department as soon as possible. The Colorado Division of Wildlife, Humane Society (i.e., local animal control), or private companies like Alpine Animal Control, can help with capture and submission of the skunk for testing.
If you suspect striped skunks are living on your property, our approach to control typically includes: 1) an investigation to confirm presence and find points of entry; 2) setting specialized skunk live traps at entry points; 3) capturing, euthanizing and disposing of resident skunks; 4) monitoring entry points to ensure that skunks are no longer living there; and 5) repairing/excluding entry points to both look good and permanently keep skunks out when practical. Similar steps are used to locate and remove dead skunks. Various odor solutions are included as necessary. We also remove skunks from window wells and can provide on-the-spot captures of sick or injured skunks.
If you need help with a skunk problem, call us at 719-636-1014 for an investigation and prices. We’d be happy to help.