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Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

Skunks are common throughout Eastern Canada, but were never present in Prince Edward Island until their introduction in the early 1900s. Fur farmers imported many of them to their ranches, and when the price of furs fell, the skunks were turned loose or escaped. Since then, they have increased to pest proportions, declined sharply in the early 1970s (probably due to distemper), and increased in numbers again. In 1981, skunks again declined dramatically in number, several cases of distemper being positively diagnosed. From 1932 to 1964, a bounty was paid for skunks in an attempt to decrease the population on the Island. Despite all efforts, the population increased, and a lot of money for bounties was paid out to no avail. Bounties usually fail to control any animal and cost the taxpayer a great deal.

This black and white, house-cat-sized animal needs little description. All the members of the weasel family have scent glands, but those of the skunk are a truly formidable (and effective) means of defence.

Most skunks weigh between 1.3 and 6.3 kilograms (three to 14 pounds) and are between 54 and 77 centimetres (21 and 31 inches) in length.

Habitat

Skunks have become accustomed to man and his activities, and they thrive in semi-open agricultural areas, mixed forests, and meadows, as well as under barns and porches in urban areas.

Remarks

Skunks are omnivores, eating both animal and plant material. Insects form a very large part of their diet and they often will dig holes in lawns to find the larvae of June bugs and other insects. Owls are about the only natural predators of Skunks, since these birds of prey have a very poor sense of smell. Except for coyotes, mammalian predators tend to avoid the skunk. Automobiles are probably the major cause of mortality for skunks.

In the fall, skunks feed voraciously and become very fat. When the cold weather comes, they find dens and become dormant during the winter. In late February or March, the males awake and, much like the raccoon, go in search of females.

The females produce five to 12 kits or cubs in April or May, and can be seen foraging with their young about a month later. When colder weather comes (sometimes as early as late October) the family finds a suitable deep den in the ground, and goes to sleep.

In order to get rid of skunk odour, a solution of one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of dish detergent is more effective and much cheaper than the traditional tomato juice bath. Moth balls placed around a barn or cottage probably won't deter a skunk from finding shelter, or a den site. A strong solution of household bleach sprayed under a stoop will not only control the smell but often will cause the skunk to leave the immediate area. For more information on how to deal with problem animals, visit Skunks

Skunks are very vulnerable to epidemics of distemper. In captivity, they have been known to live as long as 10 years.

The commercial value of skunk fur was high during the late 1800s and early 1900s but has dropped considerably. Although few are trapped today, their fur is soft, warm and durable.

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