Striped Skunks in Iowa

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In Iowa, there are two types of skunks. There is the classic, well-known, striped skunk and the lesser-known, spotted skunk. The spotted skunk is also known as the civet cat and they are on Iowa’s endangered species list.

But today, we’re going to focus on the striped skunk. These skunks are nocturnal except during springtime because that’s when the females have their babies and late in the fall when they are putting on weight to overwinter. If you think about it, there tend to be more skunks on the roadside during the fall than any other time of year because this is when the babies leave the mother to find their own territory and they’re searching for food. They don’t run fast so they typically stay put rather than run off the road.

Skunks don’t hibernate; they do that thing where they go into a deep sleep when it’s really cold but every few days will wake up to eat and relieve themselves. They will even sleep in dens with many other skunks. If you come across one of these dens, don’t mess with it.

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They mate and have babies between May and June. They typically have a litter of 4 to 6 kits. These kits stay with their mother until the fall. But while they’re still young, I would watch out. As soon as they are old enough to leave the den, they are old enough to spray. Once they are eight days old, they are old enough to emit musk so I wouldn’t mess with the little ones either.

Skunks will give a warning before they spray though so if you pay attention, being sprayed could be avoided. Skunks will stomp their feet, click their teeth and raise their tails to warn you to back off. If these don’t work, a skunk might charge at you and if you don’t back off after this, they will spray.

Humans are able to smell skunk spray from a mile and a half away. Now imagine that smell from 20 or fewer feet away. Contrary to popular belief, tomato juice just masks the smell of the skunk instead of getting rid of it. There are much better ways such as using a mix of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dish detergent.

Striped skunk’s natural habitat extends from the southern part of Canada to the northern part of Mexico. They adapt well to human development as well. They will live in dens in forested areas, abandoned grain silos or even in places like sheds. They can be considered a nuisance animal, but they are very important to the environment.

They eat just about anything including bees. Their thick fur protects them from stings, but they don’t mind getting stung as they eat the bees. They also eat many insects which helps control our insect populations. They don’t have very many natural predators either. They are hunted by many birds of prey as they can’t smell and attack quickly from above.

Skunks may seem scary but if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. They might tear up your yard to eat grubs but hey, at least you know you have grubs now. They are kind of cute and they eat our bugs to help control those populations. I don’t know about you, but I think anything that helps control our insect populations is great.