Q&A: Do skunks spray each other?

striped skunk in snow by Dan Dzurisin
During the breeding season, in February and March, female skunks may spray males when they're no longer in the mood (Photo: Dan and Lin Dzurisin, Creative Commons license)

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You’ve got questions, NDN has the answers.  Tricia asks, “Do skunks let go with musk when fighting each other or only in response to non-skunk threats?

When it comes any question about skunks, I turn to my favorite expert on the Mephitidae family, Dr. Jerry Dragoo of the University of New Mexico’s Department of Biology.

“Skunks usually don’t spray unless they fear for their lives; some skunks are easier to scare than others. Usually during a skunk to skunk encounter the combatants will go through a series of displays and threatening behaviors. There may be some screeching or other vocalizations. The encounters usually end peacefully with one animal retreating. Some times the two may actually fight. There will be biting and rolling and again, more vocalizations. This too usually ends peacefully with the loser backing off,” he explains.

But there are some exception. Occasionally, adult male skunks will kill juveniles so young skunks are more likely to feel their life is at stake and spray if they encounter an adult.

Intraspecies spraying can also occur during the breeding season. According to Dr. Dragoo, “Females may spray males. The breeding behavior of striped skunks may seem like fighting. If the female is receptive the ‘fight’ will continue until she has bred. She may mate with multiple males during breeding season. However, when she is done, she may spray at a male to deter unwanted advances.”

Nothing says “I vant to be alone” quite like an atomized sulfur cloud.

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Email your wildlife questions to NDN and the answer may turn up as a future blog post. And don’t forget to “Like” NDN on Facebook!

© 2011 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author.

4 Replies to “Q&A: Do skunks spray each other?”

  1. I witnessed a skunk fight and the screeching was so loud that at first I didn’t know what was happening. An adult skunk and a young small skunk were rolling around spraying each other. The young skunk was being bit hard by the adult skunk and I felt compelled to break it up before it became fatal.

  2. How far must a trapped skunk be taken away so it won’t come back? We have trapped 3 large skunks in one week on our deck. The back of our house gets sprayed almost nightly at 4 am. We are awakened by the smell. My husband is so soft hearted, he can’t shoot them. Is 5 miles far enough away, so they won’t return???

    1. Hi Pat, and thanks for visiting Next-Door Nature!

      I’ll begin by asking you a question: How far would someone have to take you and your husband away before you’d stop trying to get back home? The homing instinct in most animals, including humans! What first appears to be a humane solution rarely is in practice. Studies show most relocated animals immediately try to return to their home territory and are often killed along the way–by cars, by predators who are more familiar with the area than the newbie, by the resident creature at the new site who doesn’t welcome competition for food and denning resources.

      Plus, while the current owner is on walkabout other animals in the area will see the open territory and try to move in. That’s why relocation is a never-ending process… as soon as you remove one animals, as you’ve recently learned, others move in. It’s trap, relocate; trap, relocated; ad infinitum.

      The more effective AND humane approach is to fix the problem at its source. Something is attracting skunks to your deck, and we need to put on our detective hats to solve this case.

      First suggestion–if the skunks are denning under your deck, you can exclude them from the space using buried wire fencing. You’ll want to do this while the animal is out foraging so they aren’t trapped underneath. Most mammals have multiple denning sites so when the skunk returns and can’t get under the deck s/he will simply use Plan B (Check out this YouTube video for guidance on how: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/digging_animals_fence.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/)

      Second suggestion: Food and water are powerful attractants, so check the area and remove pet bowls (feed them inside), trash cans, wood piles that may harbor mice and insects, bird feeders with spilled seed beneath, etc.

      Eliminate denning sites and remove food and water resources and your yard will become a much less appealing place for skunks to live. Problem solved!

      Good luck!

      Kieran

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