The skunk is free!

I tried calling the authorities about our little skunk problem.

The humane society wasn’t equipped to deal with skunks. They suggested I call the police.

The police (who have been disbanded) couldn’t do anything. They suggested I call the DNR.

The DNR doesn’t have any officers in town. They suggested I call the police. When I said I had, they told me I’m on my own.

So…I threw an old tarp over the cage, opened the door while wearing goggles and heavy gloves, and the skunk scurried off to our backyard without mishap, fortunately, although the tarp is now rather stinky. Unfortunately, though, we found out where our skunk family lives: under our deck.


  1. says

    We have a cabin in northern Wisconsin. When we got up there a month ago, we watched a skunk disappear underneath it, and then the next day, saw two juvenile skunks wrestling in that area. That meant our dog needed to stay leashed.

    Upon local advice, we bought moth balls–they came in mesh bags. So I stuffed those bags in all sorts of locations under the cabin, and it appears they left fairly soon thereafter, as we did not see them again and our dog was never sprayed. The air around the cabin does smell of moth balls, though. But not too strongly. It beats the alternative.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    But think of all the deserving people you could have mailed the skunk to!

  3. CorporalKlinger says

    I know of course of the spraying defence of the skunks, the way you know when you’ve read about it somewhere without giving it more thought. But now I have to ask: is it really that horrible? When you compare it to, let’s say, rotting flesh from a dead animal or a sewer ( the two worst smells, I can think of right now). Is it worse? Equally bad?

  4. daved says

    I persuaded a skunk to vacate the space under my deck by scattering cayenne pepper on the ground while it was away.

  5. Dr. Pablito says

    Corporal Klinger: It’s bad. It’s … overwhelmingly bad. It’s everything people say it is. A slight whiff of skunk around the yard when a skunk may have strolled through it the night before might be described as “interestingly musky” or “earthy” or “funky”. But getting sprayed, or having your dog sprayed, or being in a location where the critter actually sprayed is so overwhelmingly overpoweringly stinky that it’s hard to convey. The odor seeps into everything. My favorite skunk story has to do with an outdoor northern California wedding, with reception held at a charming B&B style inn. The wedding party was all carrying on in the late evening and nobody noticed when the skunked dogs had slipped back inside, mingling with the crowd, until it was too late. The groom stayed up that night in the shower stall, cleaning the dogs with peroxide, dish soap, tomato juice… Driving home the following day, my wife and I had to give up on wearing our blue jeans because they were so smelly. We pulled off the road, stripped to undies, and left the jeans in a roadside trash can. It’s that bad. The bride and groom are dog people, and it was a big bonding experience for them.
    The important reason to have weddings is to have stories to tell about them.

  6. Matt G says

    Long live the skunk! Anyone know good ways to get rid of groundhogs? We think the male got hit by a car, but that mom and 3-4 offspring are still around. We have the same trap as PZ. The trap has been out so it isn’t foreign to them, but our attempts with cantaloupe have failed.

  7. says

    I’ve been sprayed before, on a long hike in the middle of nowhere. How bad was it? So bad that I jumped into a cow pond that had a two foot deep layer of squishy cow shit in it, all to try and reduce the stink.
    Also, it burns. My cousin was sprayed in the eyes (same hike), and was blinded for about 20 minutes.
    What it smells like: mercaptans, if you’ve ever worked in an organic chem lab.

  8. flex says

    @CorporalKlinger #4,

    Having smelled all your examples, not by choice, but by necessity at times, I will say that Skunk is by far the worst.

    Next comes rotting animal flesh, at the worst, partially liquid, stage. And this is one reason I do not care for zombie movies. Not that I’ve smelled rotting humans, but the memory of the smells of rotting pig carcasses still makes me want to puke. When I watch a zombie movie that memory comes back. Oddly enough, that memory is not triggered by video games with zombies, maybe because I feel I have some agency in dealing with them. In a movie, however, I’m forced to watch the director’s loving caresses of rotten flesh, and the memory returns.

    The ripe smell of human feces in a sewer is bad, but not as bad as rotting flesh.

    But skunk stink, while it doesn’t make me puke, can’t be easily removed. A good shower with lots of soap will remove the stench of rotting flesh or sewer. And the smell of rotting flesh or sewer won’t cause physical pain like skunk smell will. With skunk your eyes will water, your nose will burn, and if it gets on your skin your skin will itch. Then removing skunk stench can take days.

    The only thing we found which works on skunk was a detergent with borox in it. There used to be a brand called Boron, which had borox, but I don’t know if it is available any longer. Tech-nu advertises as being able to get rid of skunk odor, but I’ve never tried it for that. It works great on poison-ivy though, because it breaks down the oils in poison ivy very well. So it might work on the skunk oil. That’s my only suggestions for skunk. Tomato juice does nothing in our experience.

    The above being said, these are my experiences from growing up on farms and doing a lot of manual labor. Other people may feel differently. Someone with more experience in chemistry than I have may have better suggestions.

  9. Larry says

    While never having been sprayed, I have smelt skunk juice. It is extremely potent and it travels a long way. I’ve driven pass dead skunks that had been run over on the road. Even with windows rolled up and no idea where the skunk was, I can still smell it.

  10. CorporalKlinger says

    Thanks to everyone, that was quite enlightening, and I have to admit a bit funny, too. Your vivid descriptions made me chuckle, no Schadenfreude, rather a chuckle of relief that we don’t have, as far as I know, Skunks in Europe.
    Thanks again.

  11. pwdm says

    I think your skunk problem was not really a problem. A cornered skunk can be vicious and you don’t want to be bitten by one (possible rabies!) but skunks are very calm animals (their spray tends to keep predators safely away) and are easily befriended. Approach your trapped skunk slowly, speaking softly so you don’t startle it (lousy eyesight, good hearing) and you can give it food through the cage mesh. Two or three days later you can hand feed it, probably pat it and pick it up, safely take it into your house if you want to (if it hasn’t sprayed for awhile the odour is not too bad, IMHO), or carry it to a nearby woods.
    Alternatively, let it live under you deck. You don’t bother it, it won’t bother you. I have had skunks live under our garden shed, off and on, for years with never an incident (I do make noise when coming home at night so as to announce my presence and not startle them).
    The only downside of having a skunk around is that they will decrease your spider population.

  12. steve oberski says

    I stopped using our live trap after I discovered a pair of Mormon missionaries in it.

    And it does not matter how far you go to release them, they always come back.

  13. Artor says

    Fun fact: skunk spray is bioluminescent! I narrowly dodged the spray of a skunk as I sped past on my bike at dusk once, and saw the glowing green cloud clearly in the dim light. And oh gods, the stench is beyond foul. There are a few things that smell similar, like a weed farm in full bloom, or a patch of skunk cabbage in the wetlands around here. But those smells can be pleasant in small amounts. At the concentration a skunk produces, it is overwhelming to the point that your sense of smell actually shuts down after a while.

  14. Silentbob says

    We saw also a couple of Zorrillos, or skunks—odious animals, which are far from uncommon. In general appearance, the Zorrillo resembles a polecat, but it is rather larger and much thicker in proportion. Conscious of its power, it roams by day about the open plain and fears neither dog nor man. If a dog is urged to the attack, its courage is instantly checked by a few drops of the fetid oil, which brings on violent sickness and running at the nose. Whatever is once polluted by it, is forever useless. Azara says the smell can be perceived at a league distance; more than once, when entering the harbour of Monte Video, the wind being offshore, we have perceived the odour onboard the Beagle. Certain it is, that every animal most willingly makes room for the Zorrillo.

    Charles Darwin, 1839

    I think Chuck’s saying don’t mess with no Zorrillo, man.

  15. says

    Been there. I called the cops on a racoon under our porch. Fucking thing was making a racket in the middle of the night. They suggested “vector control” Crazy rodents to me = potential rabies. I got scars and scratches but rabies scares me. You would have appreciated this @PZ After trying to break through my door (I live in a basement and I have a door to the underside of the porch) That racoon must have died. Then we had an ant problem. Turns out the ant colony stripped that racoon bare and all that was left was a nice clean skull. I gave it to my (now) ex-girlfriend.

    Also, if you want a nice clean skull, bury it near an ant colony and let the ants do the work. Not kidding, They do an amazingly thorough job.

  16. says

    You just need the magic words…
    Repeat after me,
    “I am an apostate”.
    You were already in the church and now you aren’t. You can even get signs that declare that for your house. JWs and Mormans will never mess with an apostate. Once you’re out of a cult, you don’t go back in.

  17. René says

    I’d suggest you install electrical fencing around your spider breeding castle. This, of course, should be low-voltage (and off-switchable) but of a high enough voltage to scare the offenders away without any damage inflicted upon them. I guess the voltage to be dependent on body weight.
    A friend used such wiring to keep her Mechelse Herder inside her large garden, so she (hi, there, SilentBob!!) didn’t roam of to kill stuff in the woods around her home.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    If you raise skunks from a young age they get tame. And as long as they have no reason to fear for their lives, they will not spray.
    A SF novel by Clifford D. Simak used skunks as living weapons against shape-shifting aliens, so now you know how to deal with any Reptilians turning up in Morris!

  19. unclefrogy says

    where I live there are a few kinds of wild animals including the normal black rats and field mice though the common mouse it more numerous and also the eastern fox squirrel and western pocket gophers make up the rodents though I do not have a lawn so I am not troubled by any of them personally . The other beasts are the usual north american trash panda (racoon) Opossum and the stripped skunk. None is more destructive as the racoon knocking stuff overt and digging things up ripping things open, The only way you will know if there are any opossums about is if you accidentally surprise one they are far less trusting probably because they are not as cute. Raccoons are mostly more fearless and are easily seen going about their business. A long stick will discourage them for a time. but that one who knows he is armed I have had varying success with the expected lingering results. Moth balls seem to discourage denning I think. All of them seem to like well tended gardens as much as we do. good luck some times I have to be not nice.

  20. onefatbroad says

    agree with pwdm. We had a skunk living in our shed for years and looked forward to seeing her little ones every year. We named her Avon because she came on our porch uninvited. There is nothing cuter than a baby skunk. Avon never sprayed us, our outside cat, the resident foxes, or any passing strays. She was a mellow old girl.

    The downside is I can’t get a dog. Haven’t seen Avon in a couple of years now. The outside cat passed on – at a ripe old age- so we stopped putting out kibble. We hope she moved on and isn’t dead and buried in the shed clutter somewhere

  21. birgerjohansson says

    I am told opossums have no problems co-existing with cats, occasionally raiding leftover cat food but not getting into fights.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    In “Tokyo Gore Police” there was a mutant that sprayed acid from her breasts. That sounds like a hell of a natural weapon.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    …and if the skunk got bitten by a radioactive spider while raiding PZ;s compost you know what it means: Kaiju film!

  24. JimB says

    True Fact: When they were first trying to air condition trains they installed the units on the underside of the cars.

    Only had scoop up one skunk to realize this wasn’t the best placement.

    My dad told me that and he was an Engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad (district 1). So it must be true…

  25. John Morales says

    When I saw the post title, I figured that PZ, having trapped it, was giving it away for free. First come first served kinda thing.

    (Happy to read the actual post, I was)

  26. bcw bcw says

    @19 perhaps ants but did you see a lot of pretty bright-green flies for a while? Those are the adults of carrion flies grown up from small maggots. We had a mouse die under a garbage can that limited access to one side. Some time later, I found a mouse skeletalized on one side with the fur intact on the other. Decorative but I didn’t keep it.

  27. VolcanoMan says

    I think skunks are some of the most misunderstood animals in the world. Generally-speaking, they will not invoke “the spray” unless they feel seriously threatened, and they actually have access to several stages of threat displays (e.g. raising their tails, stamping their front feet, and doing actual handstands) that they will preferentially use before resorting to the butt joos. Also, they can get used to a certain amount of human traffic as normal and non-threatening – so when they’ve set up shop in an area with significant human activity, it’s safe to assume that it would take something beyond the normal behaviours of a family to freak them out. I can understand the concern of people with dogs or other pets which would pose a real threat to the skunk (i.e. they have the instinct to attack small furry wildlife) – in these cases, I think removal is very much on the table. Especially if the skunk(s) could be rabid…then all bets are off. But if I didn’t own a dog, and discovered a family of skunks living on my property, I’d probably just let them be (that’s not to say I wouldn’t be cautious when walking about, especially at night). They certainly keep rodent populations down, and their babies are downright adorable. I’d probably set up an infrared webcam to track the growth of the kits, and maybe even keep the internet apprised of same via a weekly vlog. Maybe.

  28. silvrhalide says


    @25 DO NOT use peppermint oil if you live in an area that may be visited by bears. Not “if there are no bears living there”; the standard is “could bears conceivably visit?”. Bears love peppermint and will come back again and again to check for peppermint. It doesn’t even have to be especially edible–they’ve been known to go after used toothpaste tubes in the garbage.
    Having a resident bear will make having a resident skunk seem like a walk in the park on a sunny day.

    And yes, there is literally no worse smell than skunk. I used to live in an LA suburb as a child; the skunks would wander out onto the highway by my neighborhood and get hit by cars, sadly. But first they would spray the oncoming car. (Note: skunk spray will also damage the paint job on your car.) Even a quarter mile away, the smell was sufficient to induce vomiting. We just used to keep our windows closed until lunchtime, when the smell would finally dissipate enough to make that possible.

    That said, descented skunks can make remarkably good pets, they are friendly and clean. They still smell like skunk and can get funky fast, like ferrets, if not bathed regularly. Also, don’t allow them on the furniture or else cover the furniture with blankets or slipcovers that can be washed because the scent is only mostly gone, not completely gone and will rub off on your furniture.

  29. submoron says

    Very interesting! I live in Britain and lost sense of smell years ago but I suspect that I’d still have problems with skunks.
    My nightmare would be Cape Baboons as per ‘Inside Nature’s Giants’.

  30. Matthew Currie says

    Some years ago I had a family of skunks in the under-house crawl space. Unfortunately, they were not very polite about odors, and made living in a very porous old farmhouse quite intolerable, and I had to get rid of them. Perhaps it was the little ones, but it seems that in spring they crank up their apparatus without much regard for the neighborhood.

    I trapped them, quite a number of them, and transported them to a nearby state forest, where I hope they found happiness, as not too far away was a campground too.

    The secret to doing this successfully is to find a Havahart trap,with both ends blind. Many traps have a solid door at only one end, but older Havaharts close at both ends. If you pick up the trap with one end facing yourself, you will not be sprayed.

    Interestingly, I trapped 13 of the prolific little blighters, one at a time, including the little ones. I also trapped all sorts of other things that season, woodchucks, a rabbit or two, a couple of cats, and, one time, a juvenile raccoon. My inlaws were staying with us at the time I got the raccoon. They noted that in the early morning, they heard a terrible racket, and found that a backyard apple tree was full of raccoons, a mother and kids, all screeching. I got up, let the critter go, and the next day, mother raccoon came back with her brood. They walked around the trap, got a good look at it, and then went away. I never caught another raccoon.

    By contrast, I caught the same woodchuck several times, one cat twice, and picked off the skunks one at a time with little difficulty. More recently possums (just let them go) and porcupines (I wouldn’t mind if they just lived in the barn but they like to nibble on it too, so off they go to the state park). But never another raccoon.

    One time, I thought to multiply my skunk success by adding a second trap – one with the solid door at only one end. That was the one time I got skunked before I could even position myself right. Those little guys can turn around and wallop you in a split second. Get the right trap and carry it right.

  31. CorporalKlinger says

    Well, as I said before, I don’t know if Skunks have reached European soil (yet), but I feel now more prepared than ever to deal with skunks, should the occasion arise. Thanks everybody for the insight.

  32. blf says

    @40, There are wild skunks in Europe. From the CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International), Invasive Species Compendium: Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk) (December 2019):

    […] Introduced to new areas in Europe through the pet trade, escapes or releases of captive animals have led to the subsequent establishment of wild populations, with the potential to become invasive.


    Several attempts to release the species into Russia and Ukraine occurred in the 1930s; however, the releases were not successful and the animals are no longer thought to be present in these areas […]. Skunks are kept as pets in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the UK […] and likely in many other European countries, although the pet trade is not well documented. It is thought that a small population of escaped / released pet animals has established in a Northern Province of the Netherlands […], but the population does not seem to have spread to neighbouring Germany or Belgium. There have been several reports of animals in the Forest of Dean in the UK, but their origin and current status is not known […]

  33. Chakat Firepaw says

    @silvrhalide #35

    And yes, there is literally no worse smell than skunk.

    Oh there are worse things, such as quite a few selenium and tellurium compounds¹. Mind you these are the sorts of things that got entries over at In The Pipeline as “Things I won’t work with”, including such wonderful details like “a minor spill resulted in a village two miles away needing to be evacuated due to the stench.”

    1: As a quick rule of thumb, moving down that column of the periodic table results in ever increasing malodorousness for compounds containing them.