Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You got your dead skunk in the middle of the road

Set the scene, springtime in Paris, 1945 and a young male French skunk named Pepe' LePew strolls around looking for "l'amour" or love.  Many of us grew up with this fictional Warner Brothers character that was created by Chuck Jones.  Of course, the skunk of his desire, Penelope (Pussycat) is not really a skunk at all, but a pure black cat, who of course wants nothing to do with malodorous, overly assertive skunk.  Fast forward to 1972 with a song written and performed by Loudon Wainwright III which goes something like this:
Crossin' the highway late last night
He shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right
He didn't see the station wagon car
The skunk got squashed and there you are!

You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin' to high Heaven!
On to the present day and the topic for this blog post: it is approaching mating time for skunks in Kentucky and you are probably going to start seeing, or actually smelling them, along the highways and byways and maybe your backyard.  Skunks beginning their mating ritual in February and carry on into March and they begin wandering around in search for a mate and since they are polygamous, they will take multiple partners.  Then in late May to early June the four to eight little skunks are born.   They have hair by the second week of life and are weaned at two months of age.  Only females take care of the young.   Skunks are habitat generalists and can live just about anywhere, even in towns and cities living under porches, decks, homes, out buildings, etc.  They typically live in a burrow that has been created by another creature or they are capable of digging their own burrow with the sharp cat-like claws on the five toes (hint for identifying their tracks, cats typically have four toes and retractable claws).  They don't have to live underground and during the warmer months may live in a rotten log, brush pile, your deck, you get the picture. Skunks are also opportunistic feeders and will eat rodents, bird or snake eggs, small rabbits or squirrels, chipmunks, nestling birds, insects like grasshoppers (they are a favorite), beetles, crickets and insect larvae.  In the summer they can raid your garden and eat vegetables like corn, beans, fruit, and berries and yes they absolutely love cat or dog food left on the porch or in the garage that is accessible via the pet door (hint, hint).  And like all omnivores in the city, they will also eat garbage.  Skunks are primarily active at night or a dusk and are quite docile animals which makes them masters of conflict avoidance (man could we humans learn from them!). Of course these very virtues is why people purchase them for pets.  They come in a variety of colors ranging from pure black to pure white.  Domesticated skunks have had their scent glands removed when they are youngsters and there are a great many sites on the internet that offer skunks for sale.  Wild skunks never make for good pets for lots of reasons.  This is the time of year that homeowners complain about skunks under the deck or other buildings and skunks tearing up their yards in search of yummy, scrumptious grubs.  So what do you do if a skunk is tearing up your yard or taken up residence in your residence?  First do not panic, it is not the end of the world and they will not spray unless threatened.  In fact, they will give you ample notice of the impending doom by stamping their front feet and then raising their tail with the hairs fully extended.  If they don't feel threatened or intimidated, they typically do not spray (hint, hint for removal).  If you are in the line of fire, so to speak, remember that they can direct their spray for up to 10' with some traveling up to 20'.  So, if they are digging grubs in the yard the simple solution to this problem is to control the grub population (contact your local county extension agent for specific information on this topic).  Now make sure you don't entice them by making sure there is no food like cat or dog food out, garbage can lids securely fastened, mice, rat or other rodent populations are controlled, etc.  Make sure you close any access under porches, foundations, etc.  If you need to trap them and remove them, they will readily go into a live trap baited with tuna, sardines, honey, etc.  However, because we have such a problem with skunk rabies in Kentucky, it is highly recommended that you not release the animals.  If you do want to release them, cover the trap with heavy canvas making no quick motions to agitate the skunk and then very slowly move trap and all.  If the skunk doesn't feel threatened, it will not spray, trust me, I have done this in the past quite successfully but it requires a great deal of patience.  If you do not wish to release the skunk then simply dispatch it to skunk heaven following an AVMA approved technique.

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