BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
Skunks are members of the weasel family and possess one of the key family characteristics, scent glands. The 2 species of skunks presently inhabiting Utah are the striped and spotted skunk. Both are omnivorous, their diet varying from insects, vegetation, and small rodents to bird eggs and garbage. Both species have 5 toes and claws on their front and hind feet that are adapted for digging.
Skunks generally den in burrows of other animals, rock crevices, brush piles, or spaces under buildings, but they will sometimes dig their own burrows. Their home range averages 0.5 to 1.5 square miles but may increase up to 5 square miles during the breeding season.
Skunks are nocturnal, reclusive animals. Extra caution should be used if a skunk is encountered during the daytime or it is extremely aggressive. This abnormal behavior maybe be an indication that the animal is rabid. Studies suggest that the occurrence of rabid skunks is highest during the breeding and parturition periods.
Striped skunks can be found throughout Utah. They are similar in size to a house cat, weighing 4 to 10 pounds. Their bodies are black, except for a white stripe on the forehead and a wide area at the nape of the neck that divides into a "V" and runs along the back.
Spotted skunks, although found in the Great Plains, are primarily seen in the mountains and canyons of Utah. They weigh only .08 to 2.2 pounds. The body of a spotted skunk is black, with a white spot on the forehead and under each ear. They have 4 to 6 broken stripes on the back and sides and a white-tipped tail.
Skunks usually breed once a year, in February or March, and bear young in early May. Litter sizes vary from 2 to 10, depending on the species and age of the female. About 2 to 4 weeks after birth, the kits' eyes open. Kits are able to spray musk about 45 days after birth.
Bobcats, coyotes, great horned owls, and other animals prey on skunks, but not as a primary food source. Humans are the main predators of skunks. Skunks are harvested for their fur and eliminated when they are pests. Although skunks eat insects and rodents, they are pests when their activities conflict with human activities.
Skunks may dig holes under buildings or obtain access through foundation openings. This situation is unfavorable because most of the possible smell and because they are a major host for rabies.
Skunks also may cause damage by digging lawns, gardens, and golf courses while looking for grubs. This digging usually results in small 3 to 4-inch cone shaped holes or patches of upturned earth.
Skunks eat fruits and vegetables, prey on poultry and eggs and disturb beehives. In areas where nesting cover has been greatly reduced by agricultural practices, skunks can have a significant impact on waterfowl and game bird populations by preying on nests and eggs.
If bitten or scratched by a skunk, wash the wound with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Any bite or scratch by wildlife and cats or dogs has the potential of causing disease. Seek medical attention if bitten or scratched. If a pet animal bites or is bitten by a skunk immediately contact a veterinarian for advice.
Unless surprised suddenly, skunks exhibit obvious warning signals before they spray; they arch their backs, stamp their front feet, and shuffle backwards. The tail is then raised, the body bent into the U-shaped position and the musk released. This substance is a sulfur alcohol compound and can be extremely nauseating. Severe burning, tears, and temporary blindness for 10 to 15 minutes may occur if the musk enters the eyes. Rinsing the eyes with water will reduce the discomfort.