Heads up — it’s now skunk season

Heads up — it’s now skunk season

Late winter is known for many seasons. If you are a maple syrup producer, it is sugaring season. If you are an outdoor winter-activity type, it is ski season.

Unfortunately, this time of year also is skunk season.

Skunks don’t really hibernate. They just lay low and stay warm in a burrow when it is cold out, and when temperatures warm up this time of year, they become active, looking for a mate. If any of you are seasoned (older) folks like me, you may have watched cartoons about the famous skunk Pepè Le Pew as a kid.

Skunks have been romanticized in cartoons, like Flower from the movie “Bambi” or Stella from “Over the Hedge,” and of course like Pepè. Real skunks aren’t as humorous as portrayed in cartoons. Skunks may look harmless, but they are best observed from a great distance.

Skunks are very docile critters and only spray when startled or as a defense mechanism. The reason we see or smell so many skunks and see dead ones along roads this time of year is they are searching for food and mates after leaving their winter dens. This time of year, February to March, female skunks, called does, and males, called bucks, are looking for mates. After a 2 to 2 1/2 month gestation, baby skunks, called kits, are weaned at five to eight weeks and emerge around June and will leave mom by the end of summer. Female skunks are very defensive of their young and spray to protect the family.

So what makes skunks so stinky? The smelly, sticky, yellow in color, oily liquid is derived from seven major and several minor sulfur compounds called thiols. When all mixed together, they make one stinky substance. These sulfur-based compounds are detectable by the human nose at only 10 parts per billion, very little. Once spray is admitted, it can linger for two to three weeks on surfaces. Every time the areas get wet, the smell will continually be activated until degraded.

What to do if sprayed

If you have ever had a dog get skunk sprayed, you know how bad it smells and how hard it is to remove the smell. There are special shampoos just for this occasion. The most common homemade formula that works well — and what I use on my bird dogs — is highlighted in a fact sheet from the University of Nebraska. You can find it at https://wildlife.unl.edu/pdfs/removing-skunk-odor.pdf.

The three basic household ingredients work wonders to reduce the smell, and they are as follows:

—1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (make sure it’s fresh).

—¼ cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

—1 or 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap (Dawn works best for me to break up the oily consistency).

Add a little warm water and mix all in a bucket — never make it ahead or enclose this solution in a closed container.

The key is to not get the pet wet before you use the formula, as water first will only make the smell worse. Mix the three ingredients together and apply to dog and let it soak for five minutes. Wear rubber gloves or the smell will penetrate your skin and linger for a long time. This mixture works well on people and clothes as well. It may require several baths to knock the smell down.

Take care to avoid getting the solution in human or dog eyes, ears or mouth. If the pet or person was sprayed in the face, do not use this or other cleaning-type products around the eyes, ears or mouth. Take a washcloth or paper towels and wipe the face, completely rinse the washcloth and do again until it is better. If the pet or person was directly sprayed in eyes, seek immediate medical or veterinary treatment as it can damage the delicate cornea of the eyes and possibly cause temporary blindness.

Tomato juice is an old wives’ tale that doesn’t really work. It does, however, give your pet an orangish tone and makes it smell like a skunky tomato. No matter what you use, the smell will still linger for days, even weeks, after multiple baths, but the above peroxide formula will greatly reduce the strength of the smell.

The good news is skunks will avoid you while going about their business. They also will give you plenty of warnings before they spray. Stomping their front feet, side-stepping with the tail half-raised, hissing and short mock charges toward you are all signs of a threatened skunk. If those do not deter the threat, they will twist their hind end at your direction and spray. Skunks can accurately spray up to 15 feet and can spray several times in succession.

Skunks are nomadic, meaning they roam around looking for food and places with less likely to disturb them. If your yard is constantly torn up, like little golf divots everywhere or grass pealed back with roots showing, it is very likely the skunks are eating the grubs under the grass. Two types of grub treatments exist. One will take immediate effect, and the other type is for next year’s grub population.

Removing the skunk’s food source will encourage them to move on. Refer to https://bygl.osu.edu/node/855 for more information on grubs.

Go to the link above to read more on proper ways to remove skunk spray or check out our website at holmes.osu.edu. You are welcome to stop at our office to obtain a copy. Holmes County OSU Extension is located at 111 E. Jackson St. in Millersburg. Thank you to Marne Titchenell, an OSU Extension wildlife specialist, for her help on skunk facts.

Gary Graham is an agriculture and natural resources educator and maple syrup specialist with the Holmes County Ohio State University Extension. He can be called or emailed at 330-674-3015 or graham.124@osu.edu.

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