Late winter is known for many seasons. If you are a maple syrup producer, it is sugaring season. If you are an outdoor winter activity type it is ski season. Unfortunately, this time of year is also SKUNK season.
Skunks don’t really hibernate they just lay low and stay warm in a burrow when it is cold out and when temperatures warm up this time of year, they become active looking for a mate. If any of you are seasoned (older) folks like me, you may have watched cartoons about the famous skunk Pepè Le Pew, as a kid.
Skunks have been romanticized in cartoons, like Flower from the movie “Bambi,” or Stella from “Over the Hedge,” and of course like Pepè. Real skunks aren’t as humorous as portrayed in cartoons. Skunks may look harmless, but they are best observed from a great distance.
Skunks are very docile critters and only spray when startled or as a defense mechanism. The reason we see or smell so many skunks and see dead ones along roads this time of year is they are searching for food and mates after leaving their winter dens.
What makes skunks so stinky?
This time of year, February to March, female skunks (called a doe) and males (called a buck) are looking for mates. After a 2 to 2.5 month gestation, baby skunks (called a kit) are weaned at 5 to 8 weeks and emerge around June and will leave mom by the end of summer. Female skunks are very defensive of their young and spray to protect the family.
So, what makes skunks so stinky? The smelly, sticky, yellow in color, oily liquid is derived from seven major and several minor sulfur compounds called thiols and when all mixed together make one stinky substance. These sulfur-based compounds are detectable by the human nose at only 10 parts per billion, (very little). Once spray is admitted it can linger for two to three weeks on surfaces. Every time the areas get wet the smell will continually be activated until degraded.
What to do if you are sprayed by skunks?
If you have ever had a dog get skunk sprayed, you know how bad it smells and how hard it is to remove the smell. There are special shampoos just for this occasion. The most common homemade formula that works well, and what I use on my bird dogs, is highlighted in a fact sheet from the University of Nebraska. You can find it here: https://wildlife.unl.edu/pdfs/removing-skunk-odor.pdf
The 3 basic household ingredients work wonders to reduce the smell and they are:
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (make sure it’s fresh)
¼ cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
1-2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap (Dawn works best for me to break up the oily consistency)
Add a little warm water, mix all in a bucket (never make it ahead nor enclose this solution in a closed container)
The key is to not get the pet wet before you use the formula, as water first will only make the smell worse. Mix the 3 ingredients together and apply to dog and let it soak for 5 minutes. Wear rubber gloves or the smell will penetrate your skin and linger for a long time. This mixture works well on people and clothes as well. It may require several baths to knock the smell down. Take care to avoid getting the solution in the human or dogs’ eyes, ears, or mouth. If the pet or person was sprayed in the face, do not use this or other cleaning type products around the eyes, ears, or mouth. Take a washcloth or paper towels and wipe the face, completely rinse the washcloth and do again until it is better. If the pet or person was directly sprayed in eyes, seek immediate medical or veterinary treatment as it can damage the delicate cornea of the eyes and possibly cause temporary blindness.
Old wives' tale: Tomato juice doesn't work to remove skunk smell
Tomato juice is an old wives-tale that doesn’t really work. It does however give your pet an orangish tone and makes it smell like a skunky tomato. No matter what you use, the smell will still linger for days, even weeks after multiple baths, but the above peroxide formula will greatly reduce the strength of the smell.
The good news is that skunks will avoid you while going about their business. They will also give you plenty of warnings before they spray. Stomping their front feet, side stepping with the tail half raised, hissing, and short mock charges toward you are all signs of a threatened skunk. If those do not deter the threat, they will twist their hind end at your direction and spray. Skunks can accurately spray up to 15 feet and can spray several times in succession.
Skunks are nomadic meaning they roam around looking for food and places with less likely to be disturbed. If your yard is constantly torn up like little golf divots everywhere, or grass pealed back with roots showing, it is very likely the skunks are eating the grubs under the grass. Two types of grub treatments exist. One will take immediate effect and the other type is for next year’s grub population. Removing the skunk’s food source will encourage them to move on. Refer here for more information on grubs: https://bygl.osu.edu/node/855 Thank you to Marne Titchenell OSU Extension Wildlife Specialist for her help on skunk facts.
Frank Becker is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator with Ohio State University Extension – Wayne County, and a Certified Crop Adviser, and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or becker.@872osu.edu
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.