Don't blame the skunks

Mike RaykoviczI was mowing my yard a few weeks ago and noticed a large patch of dug up turf. Grass roots were scattered everywhere. My first inclination was to get the varmint having the nerve to come into my yard and destroy my lawn. It annoyed me and I planned on getting even. My idea was to set a live trap and then take the criminal as far from my backyard as possible. Skunks! The dirty little buggers were ruining my yard and this was war!

Before setting the trap, I cleaned the ripped up area and was about to re-seed it when I discovered the turf around the dug up area was coming out in clumps as well. Closer examination showed me the problem wasn’t the skunks. They were foraging for grubs and just doing what came naturally. 

The real enemy, I found, was the thousands of Japanese beetle grubs infesting my lawn. As it turned out, the skunks alerted me to a much bigger problem. The beetle grubs were happily gnawing away the roots of my lawn grass and later, when they developed into adult beetles, they would attack my ornamentals. They would have, too, if it weren’t for skunks looking for an easy meal. A quick trip to the local hardware store for an effective insecticide quickly took care of the grub problem and the skunks.  No grubs, no skunks.

Because skunks have a well-known reputation for emitting a pungent musk whenever they feel threatened, most people avoid them. Other mammals have subtle colors that allow them to blend into their environment, but the skunk’s white and black fur makes it stand out in a woodland setting. Unlike other creatures, including raccoons, woodchucks or foxes that flee when they encounter a predator, skunks stand their ground and seem to be unconcerned of the danger.

Skunks are more numerous than most people think. Because they are nocturnal, people seldom encounter them. On the other hand, domestic cats, which are apt to be out at night, can come back to their home reeking of skunk musk. Any skunk seen during daylight hours should be avoided since skunks carry rabies.

I’ve encountered skunks many times in my woodland journeys and found them to be a most laid-back animal. Most of the time the skunks I’ve encountered moved through the woods at a slow walk or, at best, a slow trot. Unlike raccoons, and even woodchucks, I’ve never seen a skunk in a tree and doubt they do much, if any, climbing.

Throughout the spring and summer, skunks feed on a variety of grubs and insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths, and even butterflies. They will also dig out and eagerly eat ground-nesting yellow jackets and bumblebees. Ground-nesting birds such as turkeys and grouse are particularly vulnerable to hungry skunks. Skunks eagerly seek out the nests of these birds in the springtime and have even been known to raid the eggs from hen houses.

As with all things wild, animals will not be far from a food source, and skunks are no different. Once I eliminated the grubs I took care of the skunk problem as well. Skunks may not be the darlings of the animal world but they do play a significant role in keeping insect populations in check.  We just have to overlook their faults. 

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, New York – Mike Raykovicz

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