Skunks, Raccoons, Opossums & Woodchucks
Skunks (Image © Geoffrey Kuchera/Dreamstime.com)
The skunk is a nocturnal mammal that has jet black hair with prominent, white stripes that run down its back. It has short, stocky legs and large feet equipped with well-developed claws. The body of the striped skunk is about the size of an ordinary house cat weighing about 8 pounds.
Skunks are omnivorous – eating both plant and animal foods. Grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets are the insects most often eaten. Field and house mice are regular and important items in the skunk diet, particularly in winter.
Adult skunks breed in late February to late March. Gestation usually lasts 7 to 10 weeks. There is usually only 1 litter per year. Litters commonly consist of 4 to 6 young, but may have from 2 to 16. The kits will stay with the female until fall.
No they don’t hibernate, however skunks are dormant for about a month during the coldest part of winter. They may den together in winter for warmth, but generally are not sociable.
Skunks dig holes in lawns, golf courses, and gardens to search for insect grubs. Digging normally appears as small holes or patches of upturned dirt. They may burrow under porches or buildings by entering foundation openings. Garbage left outdoors may be raided by skunks.
Skunks discharge musk from the anal gland, are capable of firing several shots, and can spray 10 – 15 feet with amazing accuracy. Prior to spraying they usually give a warning by stomping their feet. Odor is not always a reliable indicator of the presence of skunks. Sometimes dogs, cats, or other animals that have been sprayed by skunks move under houses and make owners mistakenly think skunks are present.
Skunks that become a regular danger or nuisance need to be carefully live-trapped and removed. This should be left to a professional to avoid being sprayed.
Here is a recipe you can make at home, which is very effective against skunk odors. Apply the mixture directly to the sprayed surface. DO NOT store the mixture in plastic bottles.
A hydrogen peroxide/baking soda recipe:
- 1-quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
- 1/4 cup of Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon of Liquid Soap
- Wash while it is bubbling…rinse off with tap water.
The raccoon is nocturnal stocky mammal about 2 to 3 feet, weighing 10 to 30 pounds. It is distinctively marked, with a prominent black “mask” over the eyes and a heavily furred, ringed tail. The “coon” is a grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black, although some individuals are strongly washed with yellow.
Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal foods, such as fruits, nuts, berries, grain, bird eggs, insects, small rodents, etc. Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not always wash their food before eating, although they frequently play with their food in water.
Raccoons usually breed in February or March and have a 60 day gestation. A litter can be from 1- 8 pups, with 4 or 5 being the average. Young are born from March to June and open their eyes at about 3 weeks of age. The pups are usually weaned at 8 – 12 weeks. Raccoons nest in tree cavities, chimneys, ground burrows, sewers, attics, garages, etc.
Raccoons do not truly hibernate in winter, but “hole up” for days, weeks, or even months, depending on the weather. Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year and the young will often den for the winter with the adult female.
Raccoons enter homes for shelter in the winter. They often cause damage to vents and shingles when entering attics. They will enter chimneys and rest on the smoke-shelf behind the damper in the fireplace. Typical entries are roof vents, louver vents, soffit vents, construction gaps, rotten fascia boards, and chimneys. Raccoons may even rip through the roof if the wood is soft.
Garden crops are often raided (especially sweet corn), as are garbage cans. Raccoons will roll sod for worms, grubs, and insects.
Raccoons carry ecto-parasites such as fleas, mites, and ticks. They are also host to more serious diseases like raccoon roundworm and rabies. In addition, they can be very aggressive when trapped or threatened. Trapping and removal of raccoons should be left to a professional.
An opossum is a whitish or grayish mammal about the size of a house cat. Its face is long and pointed its ears rounded and hairless with a ratlike tail. The opossum is the only marsupial (with pouch) located in North America. Opossums usually live alone and are active only at night. When threatened, an opossum may bare its teeth, growl, hiss, bite, and exude a smelly, greenish fluid from its anal glands. If these defenses are not successful, an opossum may play dead. They are expert swimmers and climbers.
Opossums are opportunistic omnivores. Those living near people may visit compost piles, garbage cans, or food dishes intended for dogs, and cats. However preferred foods are animal matter, mainly insects or carrion.
Opossums have 2-3 litters per year, with an average of seven young per litter. The young are born 13 days after mating. They are about the size of a navy bean when they are born, and will nurse in the mother’s pouch for up to 60 days. Most “joeys” die during their first year. The maximum age in the wild is about 7 years.
Opossums do not hibernate. They remain active through all seasons.
Opossums dig around foundations and backyard areas, and sometimes den in attics and garages where they may make a messy nest. Opossums pose little, if any, significant threat to humans.
Opossums occasionally become a regular nuisance and need to be live-trapped and removed by a professional.
Woodchucks (Image © Steve Troletti/Dreamstime.com)
The woodchuck, a member of the squirrel family, is also known as the “ground hog” or “whistle pig.” It is usually grizzled brownish gray and its tail is short, well furred, and dark brown. Woodchucks are diurnal, (active during daylight hours), solitary, and are occasionally found climbing trees. Like other rodents, woodchucks have white or yellowish-white, chisel-like incisor teeth. The woodchuck’s compact, chunky body is supported by short strong legs. Its front feet have long, curved claws that are well adapted for digging burrows. Groundhogs excavate their own holes or burrows within minutes. They develop complex burrows and tunnel networks for shelter and escape routes. These burrows provide the woodchuck a home for mating, raising young, hibernation, and protection from threats and predators. Woodchucks usually range only 50 to 150 feet from their den.
Woodchucks are strict herbivores that forage on fruits, grasses, and plants in flower and vegetable gardens.
Woodchucks have an annual litter that produces 2-6 hairless and blind cubs. They are weaned by late June or early July, and soon after strike out on their own. The life span of a woodchuck is about 3 to 6 years.
Due to their feeding preferences and the shortages of food in winter months, woodchucks must hibernate. They hibernate from late October to March or April depending on their geographic location. Woodchucks are among the few mammals that enter into true hibernation.
Damage to crops can be costly and extensive. Fruit trees and shrubs are damaged by woodchucks as they gnaw or claw woody vegetation. Gnawing on underground power cables has caused electrical outages. Damage to rubber hoses in vehicles, such as those used for vacuum and fuel lines, has also been documented. On occasion, burrowing can weaken slabs and foundations.
Control of woodchucks generally involves trapping and removal by a professional wildlife control operator.