Skunks: Yellowjacket slayers

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2023

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Have you ever thought much about skunks? Probably not. They seem forgotten until that dreadful smell hits you. In a weird way, their smell connects us to nature, reminding us that skunks are around.

You’ll rarely see one during the day since they usually come out at night. Skunks have to be one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. They smell awful yet are so beneficial to our landscape. Plus, they are so darn cute. So let’s learn more about these backyard wonders.

When you smell a skunk, you know it! The skunk sprays musk from two anal glands on its butt. But before a skunk sprays, it gives you a fair warning. Stomping its feet on the ground and hissing is meant to deter you from coming closer. Spotted skunks even do a handstand, trying to get your attention. 

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The last thing the skunk wants to do is spray you. Once they use all their spray, they’re completely defenseless for up to 10 days! It takes that long for their body to make more. Not good for the skunk.

On the rare occasion you or your dog gets sprayed, use hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to get rid of the smell. Dousing yourself in tomato juice is an old myth and won’t help except now you smell awful with a tomato aroma.

For the recipe to make skunk removal shampoo, check out our blog “Incredible Skunk Spray: Everything You Want To Know.” Plus, you will learn how far a skunk can spray!

Skunks generally live within two miles of where they are born so they’re our neighbors. They need water so look for them around ponds or other water sources at night.

 If you see a skunk in a tree, how do you know what kind it is? Well, striped skunks are not very good climbers since they have long nails, but they can climb over fences. However, Eastern spotted skunks have shorter nails and are excellent climbers. In our area, we have both species.

Why do skunks have stripes? They are meant to deter predators. You only need to tangle with a skunk once to remember exactly what they look like with their bold black and white markings.

The biggest dangers to skunks? With terrible eyesight, our cars and trucks are deadly to them as they cross the road. Some birds of prey, like the Great Horned Owl, don’t smell very well and would love to have a skunk for dinner.

The other big threat is our misunderstanding of them. Since skunks do carry rabies, we often fear them. But you must get bitten by a rabid skunk to get rabies which is really rare. Getting sprayed by the skunk just makes you smell terrible but won’t give you rabies.  

By eating insects, moles and grubs that are chomping on your prized plants, they are great pest control for your yard., and they are particularly fond of Japanese beetles, cutworms and hornworms. But even better, they love yellow jackets and will destroy a nest overnight. Perfect!

Of course, they dig holes looking for those moles, grubs and yellowjackets.  Just consider the holes free aeration for your soil. They also eat small rodents helping keep the mice population in check. Since they are immune to snake venom, they will eat poisonous snakes. What’s not to love!

 With an average life span of only 2-4 years in the wild,  we can help them by driving slower, especially at twilight and night. Spread the word of the coolness and importance of these animals, especially as yellowjacket slayers. And because of their limited eyesight, they can fall into uncovered window wells or empty pools so covering them is helpful. If you see a skunk in distress, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. 

If you have ever seen baby skunks, you might just fall in love like I have! Let’s celebrate all that is wild in our backyards, especially skunks! 

Loti Woods is a founder of Champions for Wildlife (formerly Weiler Woods for Wildlife), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire and empower the next generation, using art & education, to be champions for wildlife. To learn more, visit