Of Pools and Private Wells: Young skunks are on the move this summer

Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are common urban fixtures in New England. Its not uncommon for these black and white balls of odorous fluff to be observed hunting around trash cans, dumpsters, apartment complexes, inner city alleyways and other human-inhabited areas in search of an easy meal.

When not taking full advantage of the byproducts created by humanity, skunks can commonly be seen foraging along suburban lawns and outer edges of rural sectors of the Northeast in search of grubs, worms, and other insects.

Skunks can produce a litter that ranges from 2 to 10 individuals, typically born sometime between April or May - thus increasing their odds of abundant presence in the urban fixtures of North America.

Now that breeding and birthing seasons have passed, youngsters are on the move learning to forage independently. The curiosity factor is at peak, to say the least.

Male juvenile skunks become independent by July or August, while females may remain with their mother until the following spring. Both male and female young become sexually mature by the end of their first year.

For their abundance, skunks tend to have a high mortality rate; with many typically not surviving their first year due to severe weather conditions and infectious disease like distemper or rabies. Those that do live past their first year can live up to seven years in the wild.

A still from a recent New Hampshire media release covering a skunk removed from a pool.

A still from a recent New Hampshire media release covering a skunk removed from a pool.

This time of year is common for an increased observance of juvenile skunk mortality; compounded mainly by man’s highway infrastructure. Road-killed skunks are sadly routine as youngsters travel farther to forage and carve out new territory of their own.

Uncovered in-ground pools also appear to be a pitfall - pun intended.

Local media in New Hampshire reported just last week about a man who removed a young skunk found floating in his swimming pool with a skimmer net.

Other factors contributing to skunk mortality include predation (from both mammals and birds of prey) and parasitism. Conflict with frustrated homeowners and domestic animals can also lead to heightened stress and mortality resulting from dog scuffles and landowner removal attempts.

Those involved in the commercial wildlife control industry will inevitably receive that mid-summer call about young skunks stranded in basement window wells, or seen roaming about in the daytime near their den entrances. Or, as was the case with a June 2016 incident in Maine - wandering aimlessly through urban streets with a yogurt cup stuck on their head.

I remember a service call many years ago in mid-summer for a client who was dealing with a skunk odor issue inside his home - which isn’t uncommon in my parts of southern New Hampshire. Upon inspection, the basement seemed to especially resonate with the odor of skunk “quill” lingering in the air - leading both myself and the client to believe the animal had taken up residence in a den against the field-stone foundation of the home. The odor was so bad that even the client’s tap water seemed to smell of skunk!

A young Jeff Traynor with an even younger striped skunk, after retrieving the animal’s remains from the private well of a local client. (Photo | Furbearer Conservation)

Old farmhouse foundations are especially notorious for both creating habitable den infrastructure for skunks, as well as allowing the skunk’s odorous side-effects to permeate the structure more effectively.

After a few days checking empty traps, I suspected the skunk had sprayed and moved on, or worse yet, died somewhere near the foundation. I was half right. The skunk had died near the foundation - but it wasn’t in an underground den.

It wasn’t until a few days into the trapping program that the client discovered the concrete cover to his dug water well was just slightly off center - hidden under a rear porch. His suspicions were confirmed when I peered deep down into the cylindrical fixture and discovered the striped matted carcass floating at the bottom. A little New England’ah ingenuity in the form of a yard rake affixed to a pool skimmer pole with duct tape allowed me to fish the unfortunate critter out of the 15 foot abyss and give it a proper burial.

So be mindful of those bustling roadways just after dark, and be sure your man-made crater-like windows, pools, and even private wells are properly covered. You never know when you’ll meet up with a young and spry (and potentially trigger-happy) striped skunk seeking to make his way across the American landscape in search of fancy new digs.