If you are among some of the old-timers here in the eastern half of North Carolina I’m sure that you’ve noticed that we seem to have more skunks residing here than we’ve ever seen before. Where it used to be a rare occurrence to see (and smell) a dead skunk lying beside the road, they’re now commonplace. While some may think that these animals are cute members of our wildlife community, others see them a pest whose population levels seems to be reaching the nuisance category.
No one seems to know exactly what is causing this increase in our population of skunks. The animals eat about anything, plant and animal, but are notorious for their food preference of eating the eggs of ground nesting birds such as our bobwhite quail.
Like many of our wildlife animals there are three essential elements necessary for their successful living, food, water and a place to rest.
Skunks feed mostly at night and this is what seems to bring them onto our highways where the skunks show little respect for oncoming cars. This is particularly true at this time of the year when the skunks are becoming more actively in their feeding after a winter of food shortages. Skunks are fond of road kill and are, among other things, scavengers of the first order.
A word of caution here is necessary. Skunks along with raccoons, foxes and other wild animals are notorious carries of rabies. Even picking u[a dead animal that is carrying rabies can be dangerous since the pathogen that causes rabies is contained in the animals saliva. some naturalists often want to pick up dead animals to get their fur. If you do this it is very advisable to wear protective gloves.
Travelers along NC Route 33 west of Aurora (Beaufort County) have for years been seeing lots of dead and live skunks on the road in the vicinity of Casey’s Auto Sales. We’ve wondered why this particular area seemed to attract skunks.
Someone finally realized that in a small area just north of the auto shop is what the Potash Corp of Aurora has what they described as a “pipe farm”. They’d worked around this large storage area for industrial piping and witnessed “hundreds of striped skunks living inside the empty pipes.” Nearby water was available to the animals and when the skunks became hungry they found lots of road kill, insects and other foods alongside the highway near their “pipe homes”. Shades of the old comic strip “Lil Abner” and the famed “skunk works” of Dogpatch.
Being naturally shortsighted skunks don’t seem to be able to see things more than about ten feet away. Oncoming cars aren’t noticed until they’re just seconds away and its too late for the skunk to avoid the car. In the battle between a heavy car and a lightweight skunk the animal usually loses. Being a sore looser the skunk, in their dying moments, seeks their revenge by spraying the car with a most foul-smelling substance that will remind the car’s driver of the encounter for many days.
The skunks can spray this oily, smelly defensive weapon for about 10 feet and it can deter most predators with its offensive odor as well as eye-stinging properties. According to Wikipedia The “Skunks have two glands, one on each side of the anus. These glands produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals such as thiols, traditionally called mercaptans, which have a highly offensive smell that can be described as a combination of the odors of rotten eggs, garlic, and burnt rubber”. Once a victim has been sprayed with this substance they have a very hard time in getting rid of it. Left alone the stinky smell can hang around for more than a week.
I’ve known people who use a small container of skunk oil as a last ditch defense mechanism. A prominent Raleigh ophthalmologist travels with a loaded handgun by his side for protection and, when his wife is along on the trip he gives her a small container of skunk oil to be used in case he should be overcome by whoever or whatever might attack them. Her emergency instructions were to open the bottle of skunk oil and pour it all over herself. “If you’re smelling so bad with this stuff all over you nobody’s going to put a hand on you,” he tells her.
Once sprayed with this skunk odor most victims tend to steer away from further encounters with a skunk. Unfortunately our domestic dogs can be a little hard headed and are known to come back for more than one dose of skunk oil.
A couple of nights ago we were returning home and when we neared our house our two Labrador retrievers came running out to meet us. Well before the dogs actually got close to us their scent preceded them. Our pets had decided to protect our home from a skunk and had been thoroughly doused with skunk oil.
Stripping off most of my clothes because I knew that I, as well as our dogs, was going to get wet, I began to fill the 100-gallon stock tank that we use to wash our pets in and reluctantly escorted the dogs to our basement. By this time the entire house smelled like a skunk farm.
I’d been told that the best way to de-skunk a dog was to wash them down with tomato juice. We did and this didn’t work. They still smelled awful.
Goggling “how to remove skunk odor” on the computer led to several remedies that looked promising. The first home remedy recommended sponging the dog with distilled (white) vinegar to neutralize the odor and then using Dawn Dish Soap to “cut through the oil”. After sponging the dog with these things they recommended washing the dog with shampoo and conditioner. If that worked it wasn’t evident. The dogs still smelled like skunk. Even our basement where we were bathing our dogs started smelling like a skunk den (or was it me??).
Home remedy #2 recommended mixing one quart of hydrogen peroxide with one box of baking soda and two tablespoons of Dawn Dish Soap. Use this mixture to spray on the dog and leave it on the dog for about 20 minutes then rinse and shampoo with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. This worked for a few minutes but the skunk odor returned in an hour or so. Since by this time I was soaked as much the dogs I was bathing and I was also starting to smell too. The oily nature of the skunk spray was causing the substance to transfer and spread onto everything.
The only remaining skunk odor control remedy listed was to wash our clothes in vinegar and Dawn dish soap and let them dry in the sun outdoors. Apparently fresh air, sunlight and time are the best-known remedy in this case.
Some quail hunters place the skunk in the same category as hawks when it comes to managing their land for bobwhite production and they encourage hunters to kill skunks whenever is possible and within the limits of the law.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission states that skunks are considered to be “game Animals” but can still be killed, with no bag limits, as long as a hunting season is open for any other animal. Since the season for coyotes (another game animal) is open year-round it stands to reason that one could shoot as many skunks as you’d like all year long. Yes, you do need a hunting license and, yes, some wild game cookbooks list the meat from skunks as being good to eat. If you have a problem with skunks harming your property or crops you can ask the Wildlife Commission for a depredation permit to control the skunks. If one is issued a hunting license is no longer necessary.