What makes skunks such scent-sensational neighbors?

The MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is asking the public to report sightings of the striped skunk, an overlooked and under-studied member of the animal kingdom.

For decorative purposes.
The striped skunk is an iconic wildlife species, easily recognized by its striking black and white fur pattern and notorious, pungent aroma. (Photo credit: Samantha Cumbow)

From forests and farms to city streets, striped skunks can be found almost anywhere in Michigan. They are most active during early spring as they search for a mate. By late March, they return to their secretive nocturnal routines, minimizing encounters with humans and pets. Brett DeGregorio, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State University, is studying striped skunks to better understand their behavior, distribution, and ability to adapt to diverse environments across the state. By understanding skunks' habits, Brett aims to offer better guidance on coexisting with them.

While skunks often get a bad rap for their aromatic tendencies, they are beneficial neighbors and eat small rodents, spiders, grubs, slugs, and many other yard pests. They tend to leave gardens alone, foraging around plants to eat insects. And unlike squirrels, they do not chew or climb. Outside of the breeding season, they spend the daytime in burrows and forage mostly late at night.

Crowdsourcing skunk information

Reporting sightings of skunks, particularly in early spring when they are mating and in the early summer when they have kits, is vital to understanding their behavior and predicting when and where they are most likely to get into conflict with people and pets. Brett's team encourages reporting skunk sightings, whether alive or dead, through the iNaturalist website or mobile app throughout the year. iNaturalist is an online social network that allows anyone at any time around the globe to record what they see in nature. Observations of skunks should include the time and location. Photos can also be uploaded. These submissions will help Brett and his team understand where skunks occur throughout Michigan, which habitats they use, and when skunks are most active. Plus, his team loves to see photos of skunks.

How to deter skunks

Skunks offer ecological benefits such as a natural grub control, but they can pose challenges for pet owners. To deter skunks, avoid feeding cats outdoors and block access to common den areas like crawl spaces and sheds. Using light or sound near their dens can also deter skunks.

Additional resources

Have another lawn and garden or natural resources-related question? Through Michigan State University Extension, experts and Extension Master Gardener volunteers provide one-on-one answers on these topics and so much more through the “Ask Extension” resource. Learn more by visiting MSU Extension’s Ask Extension website.

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