Mysterious damage to your lawn or other areas of the landscape, a musky odor and dogs barking at night could indicate the presence of skunk, but knowing exactly what to look for will help you diagnose an unwanted visitor as a skunk and guide your treatment decisions. Remember, in addition to their pungent sprays, skunks can carry rabies and a host of other diseases, so stay away from any skunks active during the daytime and minimize outdoor activities at night if you suspect a skunk is visiting the area.
Skunks feed on adult insects and insect larvae or grubs, ripening or fallen fruit and small mammals; much of their diet does consist of lawn and garden pests. To access soil-dwelling grubs or other insects, the skunks dig small, cone-shaped holes that measure 3 to 5 inches across. Skunk dens are situated in sheltered sites like under wood piles, porches or decks and in existing burrows. They can dig but prefer to do as little digging as possible and instead move into abandoned burrows. Den entrances generally measure 3 to 4 inches across and have little grass growing near the heavily-trafficked entrance. There may be no strong musky odor at a skunk den.
Tracks and Droppings
If the digging damage caused by the animal is not particularly distinguishable, looking at any tracks or droppings the perpetrator left behind can be helpful. Skunks have five toes on both their forefeet and hind feet, but they may not all be apparent in the tracks. The heel of the skunk's forefoot may not show up, but the claws from both the forefeet and the hind feet usually do. Skunk droppings measure 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter and 1 to 2 inches long and are often recognizable because they contain undigested insect parts.
Preventing or Addressing Skunks
Making the yard less attractive to skunks and eliminating all openings to possible den sites can help keep skunks away. Keep the area clean by disposing of trash in tightly sealed containers, picking up and disposing of fallen fruit promptly and storing all pet food indoors. Controlling any rodents in the landscape also makes the site less desirable to hunting skunks. Removing wood or other debris piles, cutting back overgrown shrubs and closing off any openings under porches, sheds, houses or other structures with mesh hardware cloth eliminates possible den sites.
Many municipalities deal with skunks, especially if they are active during the day and may pose a potential rabies threat, so contact the pest or animal control department of your county or local municipality. Even if they will not capture or kill the skunks, they will generally provide advice or referrals.
Other Possible Yard Visitors
A few other animals could visit the yard at night and cause damage similar to skunk activity. Raccoons also feed on lawn insects and grubs but tend to roll back sod to access insects rather than dig small holes like skunks. Raccoons may also raid garden plantings. Opossums and raccoons will, like skunks, raid garbage cans or garbage piles and pet food and are also nocturnal.