Skunk Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Skunks and Their Stink

A skunk

Skunks, of the family Mephitdae, have an appearance almost as memorable as their characteristic foul odor. Their bold, black and white fur serves as a warning: “come any closer and you will get sprayed.” Originally thought to be members of the weasel family, skunks have recently been given their own evolutionary branch, due primarily to some major differences found within their genetics. There are 11 species of skunk around the world; 4 of which live in North America, with only one species inhabiting New York State.

Skunk Spray, a chemical called N-butlymercaptan, is a volatile mix of sulfur-containing compounds. The skunk produces and stores these chemicals in a pair of glands on the lateral sides of its anus. It stores enough for roughly 5 sprays, and it will need more than a week to produce more. The spray can reach almost 15 ft with impressive accuracy. The victim will not only succumb to the smell, but may also experience temporary eye irritation or blindness. It is an effective defense that keeps all but a few sneaky predators away.

The skunk does not have to spray at every encounter, nor does it want to. Since it takes so long to replenish its supply of spray, it uses a few tactics as warning prior to letting loose. The skunk’s bold black and white fur pattern is unmistakable. And if the appearance doesn’t make the threat turn back, the skunk will raise its fur and tail (to appear larger), hiss and stomp its feet. If the threat still does not go away, the skunk will assume the spraying posture: it will form a U-shape with its body, its tail lifted up, head and rear facing toward the threat, and spray. The spray will stick to fur and saturate the air immediately around the vicinity. Skunk spray can last for days to months depending on the amount.

Surprisingly, skunks will not spray other skunks; possibly because it may be ineffective on each other. When these usually solitary animals fight (usually over a mate or a den), they do it with tooth and claw.
Domestic dogs are very susceptible to skunk sprays. Being curious and playful, they tend to ignore the warnings and move in for a closer “sniff.” Domestic cats, on the other hand, have been known to get along well with skunks and can often be seen feeding together.

In some parts of the world skunks are kept as pets. They are very docile and pleasant animals. Owners typically have the scent glands removed.

What to do if You Get Sprayed by a Skunk

Getting rid of Skunk spray has always been a challenge. There are many myths as to what to use. Oddly enough, many of home remedies overlap with what folks say will remove bubblegum stuck in hair. Removing all traces of the spray will be a challenge. Luckily, chemists have identified the chemical make-up of the spray and identified specific chemicals to neutralize the odorous ones. And before trying what Old Aunt Elsa says her grand-pappy did when they got sprayed as kids back before the great war, try one of the two dependable ways of getting rid of skunk odor:

The Old-Fashioned Way

  1. Shampoo repeatedly (preferably with a citrus-scented shampoo)
  2. Use an odor neutralizer (such as Febreze or baking soda)
  3. Ventilate with fresh air.

The Hi-tech way

  1. Run to a pet store and purchase a skunk spray remover such as Skunk-Off or Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover. These products are formulated to break down or neutralize the compounds in skunk spray. Use as directed.
  2. Use an odor neutralizer (such as Febreze or baking soda)
  3. Ventilate with fresh air

Make your own odor neutralizer

In a pinch, this formula will work well against skunk spray. Mix immediately before use and do not store. Be careful using this around the eyes.

  1. 2 tablespoons shampoo (preferably citrus)
  2. 1 cup baking soda
  3. 1 bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Skunk Books and Field Guides

Humane Capture / Control for Skunks

Skunk Stink Help – Shampoos and Odor Neutralizers

A Guide to Skunks

Striped SkunkStriped SkunkStriped SkunkFind more images

Striped Skunk
(Mephitis mephitis)

AKA: Skunk, Polecat (incorrectly), Pepe

Identifying characteristics: About the size of a domestic cat, they have black fur with a bold white stripe that runs from the top of the head and splits into two stripes at the shoulders. The stripes continue down the sides of the back and tail. The fluffy tail is bi-colored, with a black stripe running down the top and black fur underneath. A small white stripe runs down the face from the forehead to just past the eyes. Their heads, eyes, and ears are small; snouts are pointed and legs short. The front toes have large claws for digging.

Size: About 23 to 32 inches in length (including their 7 to 12 inch tail), weighing an average of 7 pounds.

Habitat: Open areas adjacent to woodland, grassland or crops. Often near water. Dens are built in shallow burrows, hollow logs, under buildings, decks or wood piles. They will make use of abandoned burrows when possible.

Food: Omnivorous. Primarily insects, but also rodents and other small mammals, birds and bird eggs, crustaceans, fruits, nuts, plant material and carrion. They often attack bee and ant nests.

Vocalization: Hissing.

Predators: Most predators are deterred by the skunk’s bold colors and funky smell, but Great-Horned Owls and Red-Tail Hawks regularly prey on the skunk. Both species have a poorly developed sense of smell. Many skunks are killed by automobile traffic, possibly due to the skunk’s poor eyesight.

Reproduction: A skunk’s litter size averages 5, with 1 litter per year. Mating season is from February through March.

Other Info.: Skunks are nocturnal, often emerging from their dens around dusk to forage for food. Although primarily solitary, a single male may winter with several females. Skunks do not hibernate, but will severely reduce their activity during winter.


Complete distribution

Found all over the state and neighboring states.

Status: common.


Skunk tracks

Look for five clawed toes on each print. Elongated back prints and the front foot’s claws are longer than the hind ones.

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