There are a lot of skunks in the wilderness of America, except the desert. 4 species have been discovered so far and these are the striped skunk, spotted skunk, hog-nosed skunk, and the hooded skunk. The question we are trying to answer here is: are they able to climb fences? Well, that depends on the species.
Description and behavior
Skunks are not normally found in the deserts, but are present in other parts of North America and the United States. These small mammals are popular but there is a lot of false information surrounding them.
There are 4 skunk species native to the US.
- The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is common in the state of Virginia,
- Along with the Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius).
- The hog-nosed skunk “Rooter Skunk” (Conepatus mesoleucus)
- And the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura) are more common in the far southwest area.
The average lifespan of a skunk can reach up to 6 years in the wilderness and can extend to up to 10 years in captivity and proper care. They are usually similar to cats in size with long fur and bushy tails in color black and white. Striped skunks weigh 4 to 10 pounds but males weigh 10 percent more than females.
The length of a striped skunk is about one-thirds of its total body length. Underneath the tail is the infamous defense mechanism of skunks that they are most known for – the two glands that excrete the musk odor. These glands are about the size of a grape and are placed on each side of their anus. They can excrete the scent at will.
In every gland, there is a small outlet that is used for accurate aiming. These animals usually do not attack first and have no predatory instincts but that does not mean that they won’t protect themselves when provoked or threatened.
Watch out for these signs to know that a skunk is about to release their musk.
- The first sign to look out for is when they stomp their front feet.
- Then the tail is raised with its tip bent downward.
- And the last one is when the tip bends upward and spreads out.
- Shortly after this, they will most likely release the musk. But if they can still change their mind and run away.
Each musk that they release amounts to about a fraction of a teaspoon and they can consecutively fire five to six rounds. Recharging takes about a day. Spotted skunks fire their musk in a different way. They usually hold themselves up on their forefeet and release the spray over their head.
Skunks also have sharp teeth and long claws which they use for digging. Although being nearsighted, they have a heightened sense of smell and hearing. Striped skunks are not skilled climbers. They are able to climb up wire mesh, fences, and boards, but they cannot climb trees; that skill is endowed to spotted skunks.
Skunks do not make distinct sounds but they can churr and grunt while they eat. They may also growl, snarl, or squeal. Their fur gets molted once a year usually in the beginning of April. Their undercoat does not shed until early in the autumn season but their guard hair regrows around June. They are nocturnal creatures that are most active after dark.
Striped skunks in particular are crepuscular, meaning they do most of their activities at nighttime until dawn. During mating season, they find mates in the daytime or they hunt for food sources after being deprived during the winter.
Spotted skunks on the other hand, do not spend much time outdoors. When they do, they are usually back in their den before the sun rises. Skunks can be carriers of rabies virus so there is a circulating notion that any skunk out and about during the daytime is rabid.
But there are instances when you will see skunks walking around during the day if their habitat has been damaged or when they are looking for sources of food. The young skunks may also be looking for their mother or if male skunks are looking for mates during mating season.
In general, skunks are sensitive to warm temperatures so as much as possible, they won’t spend much time exposed to hot weather. Though they do not hibernate, they will remain in their den during the winter season.
Skunks can live in both rural and urban areas. They can survive in partly open areas, fields with abundance of grass, brushlands, and pastures. They usually build their dens near water sources. Striped skunks typically situate their dens under well-drained soil.
You can commonly find them near wooded hillsides, bordering pastures, or fields of hay. In these areas, there may be the presence of insects which is part of their diet and the woods in the forest provide insulation from cold weather.
The earthen dens that striped skunks inhabit may originally be constructed by groundhogs or red foxes. Dens from groundhogs have two points of entry but the ones that are built by the skunks themselves only have one. They also build homes out of fallen tree trunks, rock, and wood piles. Spotted skunks usually just stay inside hollow trees.
With the rapidly increasing urban development and the destruction of natural animal habitats to be converted to residential or commercial areas, these wild creatures are forced to take up residence underneath people’s houses, garages, and in other parts of buildings.
They can build tunnels under houses. But if there are young skunks involved, the den that was built is shared with other skunks as well. They usually go out at night and go as far as one to two miles from their den when they go searching for food.
If you are a gardener or farmer, you will appreciate skunks a lot. Though they are omnivores, they mainly consume grasshoppers, crickets, mice, voles and shrews, insect larvae, turtle eggs, worms, beetles, grubs, caterpillars, slugs, weevils, spiders, millipedes, baby rats, and mice – all of which are annoying to the daily lives of human beings. Aside from that, they also eat fruit, tree buds, grass, and berries.
But even though their lifestyle may be beneficial to humans, they do not like human interaction that much. Other animals that are enemies to skunks are dogs, great-horned owls, eagles, bobcats, and foxes. These predators hunt skunks.
Sometime in February, the mating season of skunks begins and lasts until the end of March. The males usually stay with the female after they mate but eventually leave around April. After 61 to 69 days after mating, females give birth to as much as ten young kits. Infant skunks do not have sense of hearing and sight upon birth and do not have a lot of hair yet, although the black and white color is already noticeable.
Each young kit weighs about one ounce but that doubles when they reach 7 days of age. After 2 weeks, their fur will have fully grown and their weight is already more or less 4 ounces. Their eyes and ears start to open after 17-21 days. For their first month, they should weigh around 12 ounces and start to walk. They can already display slight signs of aggression and be able to do the spraying stance. Their musk glands are already similar to the size of a pea at this age.
By June or July, the kits have already reached around 7 weeks of age and should weigh about 1 and a half pounds. They will start to join their mother in trips to the outdoors and are fully weaned, which means they no longer depend on their mother’s milk for nutrition.
Come october, the young kits already look like adult skunks but only at a smaller size. This will mark the start of winter den construction. They will stay in their den for the span of the winter season. They can be active as well in areas of warmer climates. But for those with extremely cold temperatures, they mostly just spend their time sleeping.
Usually during the winter season, there is an increase in skunk infestation. Even though skunks do not normally go out during the cold seasons, it seems like that has changed lately. Rehabilitators get a lot of calls around that time of year which only means that skunks are already tolerating the cold season. This can be attributed to the gradually warmer temperatures during the winter, the loss of wildlife habitats, and a growing number of garden pests.
Most complaints involve skunks digging up tunnels in people’s backyards. With their diet mostly consisting of caterpillars, gophers, slugs, snails, moles, voles, and mice, expect that they would spend a lot of time hanging around gardens with an abundance of the mentioned pests. Skunks also like to feed upon slugs and grubs that are plenty on the surface of the soil. But as soil decreases in moisture content, the presence of slugs and grubs also decreases. So to lessen this activity, do not water your lawn often.
People also seek assistance in the removal of skunks from denning sites, such as under elevated sheds, openings under concrete slabs, driveways, porches, and crawl spaces under houses. Before you seal dens, you should always double check for the presence of any animals that might have taken up residence below your house deck.
One way to test is by covering the entrance to the deck with some loose soil. If there is an animal present inside, then the temporary cover will most likely be opened. But if it remains intact for two to three days, then it is probably unoccupied and you permanently place a barrier to prevent future entry of other animals.
If there is a skunk occupying the den, you can keep them out with the use of a one-way door that you can put up at the den’s entrance. When they leave the den, they won’t be able to get back in. You can leave that door in that spot for a couple of days while inspecting for new dug up entrances. When everything’s clear, you can remove the door and put up a permanent seal. But you should not do this in the spring and summer season because there is a high chance that the den might have young kits inside and they won’t survive without their mother skunk.
Another common complaint by homeowners is that skunks have also taken up residence in their garages. One method we can suggest to remedy this is to leave your garage door open at night and leave a trail of cheese that leads outside. You can leave a small pile of flour by the door to track the footprints of the skunk. After they get out, keep your garage door closed at all times.
Skunks can also fall into window wells and get stuck because they can’t climb back up. Simply place a garbage can or a cardboard box by the side of the window well with the opening facing the well. You can put a chuck of cheese to lure them in. Approach them slowly and gently so they won’t get frightened or threatened and you don’t risk being sprayed. Let them get inside the can or box and put it back on the ground gently and allow them to exit.
Pets getting “skunked” is also another frequent complaint. There isn’t much information about effective removal of skunk odor. But the popular home remedy that people use is tomato juice. However, a chemistry professor from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California says that immersing pets in tomato juice does not work.
He suggested bathing them instead with a mixture that has 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid detergent. This is more effective but has the tendency to bleach your pet’s fur.
Another suggested home remedy is a vinegar and mixture solution. Others also recommend Scope mouthwash, a solution of baking soda, and “Skunk-Off” (which is available in pet and feed stores).
Most common skunk species
Let us first get to know the common species of skunks in America before we get around to the methods on how to keep them away from your yard.
These skunks have mainly black fur with white stripes along their snout. There is also a V-neck mark on their back. This particular species is the largest of them all with weights that can be as heavy as 14 pounds. However, they are not the most excellent climbers. Their long claws make it difficult for them to get a good grip on things. They can climb up fences but not trees.
Spotted skunks can be divided into two types – the eastern and western spotted skunks. The eastern spotted skunks have broken white stripes along their back and their tail has a black tip. They also have a shorter tail compared to other skunks. For the western spotted skunks, the white line on their back is broad and the color of the tip of their tail is white. They are smaller yet faster than most skunks and can climb up and down trees.
American hog-nosed skunks run wild in the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Their distinct feature is a thick white stripe that runs from the top of their head all the way to the tip of their tail which is purely white in color. Their snouts resemble the nose of a small hog, hence the name.
They weigh around 2 to 6 pounds and have just one broad white stripe down that starts from their snout all the way to their tail. Like the striped skunks, they also have long claws which makes them great diggers but not climbers.
Hooded skunks are seen throughout the southwestern United States.
If a skunk has a tuft of fur around its neck, then it’s a hooded skunk. Members of this species either have just one thick white stripe or two thin stripes on their backs all the way to their tails. They resemble striped skunks in a lot of ways. However, the tails of hooded skunks are longer and they also have softer fur. They do not climb often and spend most of their time on the ground.
How skunks get into a fenced area
There are three ways by which skunks can enter fenced properties: over, under, and through.
Climbing over the fence
With persistence, skunks can really make it over a 6-foot tall fence. But some species do not try if the barrier is taller than 18 inches. Skunks are not able to jump so in order to climb a fence they need to make use of their snout and their claws only which is a lot of work and effort for them.
It’s difficult especially for fences made of metal or concrete with a smooth finish. But for wood, wire mesh, or chain-linked barriers, they can gnaw their way through if they’re persistent.
They can use any structure or object near your fence to use as a bridge to get over. Spotted skunks can also climb trees and walk across a tree branch that reaches over your property.
Eastern spotted skunks can be found all over the estern United States, Canada, and Mexico. They are a rare breed and there are also reports that their population is gradually decreasing in numbers. Efforts are being made to preserve their species.
Out of all the skunk species, the spotted skunks are the ones most skilled in climbing. They are smaller and lighter, which means they can carry their weight easier and are able to move faster. They also have pads underneath their feet that help in their grip while climbing.
Digging under a fence
Striped skunks are plentiful in most parts of North America. Their bodies are bulky and they have long nails to help them with their digging.
This particular species of skunks are great diggers so when they enter a fenced property, they most likely dig their way underneath the barrier and come out at the opposite end.
Their legs are short but strong. Pair that with their long nails and they are able to dig depths of up to 2 feet below the ground.
Along with the hooded and hog-nosed skunks, they have excellent digging skills and will go underground to get across a fence instead of climbing over it.
Getting through a fence
Skunks can squeeze themselves just to get through even a small opening in a fence. Amazingly, adult skunks can fit through holes that are as narrow as 4-6 inches in diameter. Young skunks can fit through even narrower openings.
To visualize just how narrow a 4-inch hole, measure the length from the bottom of your palm to below your knuckles. If your fence has a hole that is 4 inches wide or more, skunks have no problem squeezing through that opening and making their way over to your area.
Why do skunks climb fences?
Skunks are nocturnal creatures that mostly sleep in the daytime and are only active in the wee hours of the night until the break of dawn. Whenever they are active, they are usually searching for food sources and potential shelters for relocation.
The garden insects that skunks like to eat are yellow jacket wasp nests, grasshoppers, mice, voles, weevils, slugs, spiders, lawn grubs, hornworms, cutworms, and Japanese beetles. This is why they are often referred to as the “gardener’s best friend” because of their contribution to the reduction of the number of pests.
Skunks have good memory retention and they will most likely remember that your property provides them with a good source of food. Chances are, they will return frequently.
Skunks also eat grass, leaves, vegetables, and tomato plants in your garden. They also tend to dig up 2 inches wide and 4 inches deep holes on the ground in search of grubs and slugs. Even though this could be a nuisance to you, if those grubs and slugs aren’t removed, they could destroy your plants.
Skunks have the habit of making a home out of the spaces underneath your porch or deck, in crawl spaces, basement, garage, and sheds. That space will be their nest and they will keep their young there around spring or early summer, from May to July.
What is the best fence to keep skunks out?
You already know that there are species of skunks that are not skilled at climbing fences. But those that are excellent climbers can wreak havoc to your wooden, chain-link, or whatever kind of fence you have. They can either climb over the fence itself or cross tree branches that reach over to your area.
The sturdier the fence, the better. A solid metal perimeter fence that is at least 2 feet tall should do the trick. The long nails of the skunk won’t be able to penetrate the smooth surface of the metal so they will have a hard time getting a grip. Though it may be more costly than a conventional wooden fence, it’s worth the investment if you want to stop certain wild animals from gaining access to your property.
If you are not able to put up a metal fence, you have to improve the stability of your current fence. Repair any damages and cover up the holes. Aside from that, bury them 1-2 feet deeper into the ground to stop them from getting through via underground tunnels.
Are skunks dangerous?
Skunks are generally harmless animals. They won’t attack first but will definitely protect themselves when they are threatened or provoked. Most of them carry the rabies virus so it can be fatal if you get bitten by one. They also carry parasitic infections like roundworms and fleas that can be transmitted to you or to your other pets.
How do skunks affect your home?
During the winter season, there won’t be many insects flying around so that lessens the availability of the food sources for skunks. That is why they go out and wander around looking for food to eat. When they end up in residential areas, they can enter your home by climbing over the fence or digging a tunnel below it.
Skunks that are already accustomed to human interaction have no problem residing in your property while those that are still wary usually stay in their burrows. During the night, they will wander around in search of food. You will find your trash bins toppled over as they rummage through it for rotten fruits or vegetables that they can smell. They also consume leftover pet food that you leave outdoors.
Skunks and chickens do not get along and sometimes the furry animal will feed on the chicken’s eggs. This is why their presence is a nuisance to farmers, especially those that raise poultry. Furthermore, they also carry infectious diseases.
How do I prevent them from entering my property?
Despite their contributions to the reduction of pests and insects, they are nothing more than unwanted residents to some homeowners. They make a mess, they smell awful, carry diseases, and can damage your lawn. They usually curl up in your shed, garage, and under your porch or patio decks. They can also stay inside hollow trees, under tree stumps, and near rock and wood piles.
They scavenge for food and will eat just about anything from rotten fruits and vegetables, pet food, insects, birds, and even smaller rodents. They will go through your trash bins just to find any food that can satisfy their hunger. It’s safe to say that they are not picky eaters.
As soon as they step foot in your property and have taken a liking to it, expect that there will be an appearance of 1-3 inch deep holes in your yard that they have dug during the night. Here are some tips on how to make your yard less attractive to these animals:
- Regular cleaning and decluttering. Minimize the amount of clutter in your yard as much as possible. Throw out old lumber cuts, rock piles, tree stumps, or any structure that they can hide under. Do the necessary repairs for your fence or deck.
- Do not leave pet food outdoors. At the strike of night, make sure you dispose or bring in any pet food that is left. Hang bird feeders in a place that is inaccessible to skunks. Monitor the ready to harvest produce of your vegetable or fruit plants.
- Clear out your yard of fallen fruits, tree branches, twigs, and leaves.
- Attach tight lids or locks to your trash bins so they cannot be easily opened by skunks and other scavenging animals.
- Cover or fill hollow spots that can be used as animal burrows.
- Secure your property with sturdy and reliable fences. Cut down tree branches that reach over to your area.
- Install night lights because skunks are sensitive to light and most likely won’t approach a well-lit area.
- Use skunk repellents. There are liquid and granule variants available or automatic sprayers that detect if there is a skunk within a specific proximity.
- If a skunk ever finds their way inside your house, leave one exit point open and seal off the rest. Do not use food as bait for them to get out otherwise they will remember your place as a source of food and they will definitely return.
If none of the methods that we recommended worked in eradicating the presence of the skunks in your property, then the best thing to do would be to leave it to the experts. Do not hesitate to contact a wildlife removal service if you think you are no longer capable of doing the job.
Trapping the skunk might work but there is a certain level of skill needed to effectively do it and one mistake could lead to you being musk sprayed which is definitely not something you want to experience.
Also, it takes a lot of time and effort that you may not be able to spare. And if they are not able to find a new home to relocate to, they will most likely come back to your property because it’s the last place they remember. If you move them, it should be to a place where they can easily have access to food and water.
Educate yourself with the animal welfare laws that govern eradication of wildlife animals so you won’t end up doing anything illegal.