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image of a skunk
11/28/2022 5 minute read

How Long Do Skunks Usually Live?

Skunks are nocturnal omnivores of the Mephitidae, which includes stink badgers. They are a subfamily of Mustelidae that houses stoats, polecats, wolverines, and the weasels. The most common type of skunk is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), which is found across North America.

In the ecosystem, animals have corresponding life expectancies. Some may live as long as 200 years, like the Bowhead whales, and as short as 24 hours, like the Mayflies. Each one is designed to play its role in the food chain and to help maintain balance in nature. So, if you may ask, what about skunks? Let’s find out!

a skunk in the woods

The Average Lifespan Of A Skunk In The Wild

On average, a skunk will live 2-3 years in the wild and up to 15 years in captivity. The striped skunk, in particular, has a lifespan of 2-4 years, while spotted skunks can live up to 3 years. The last concern is given to the hog-nosed skunk or rooter skunk as they have a 6-8 years lifespan.

A lot of factors influence this. In the wild, their life expectancy is shorter because of their predators. In captivity, however, they are provided with a more secure environment. They are also given food and water regularly, which helps them live longer.

Other factors that affect a skunk’s lifespan are the diseases they contract and their diet. Skunks are susceptible to rabies and canine distemper, which can both be deadly. On the other hand, a healthy diet can help them boost their immune system and avoid these diseases.

Their diet consists mainly of insects, small rodents, and fruits. They have to forage for food and compete with other animals in the wild. This can be stressful and can take a toll on their health.

Why do Skunks live such short lives?

Although skunks are highly adaptable, some things do not spare them from their demise. There are many factors that influence the longevity of skunks. Here are the following factors affecting life expectancy:

a coyote standing in the field looking for prey

Predators

Predators are a problem for each and every animal in the wild. No matter how big or small animals can be, some are stronger and larger than others. It’s an endless process of preying and predation.

For skunks, one of the factors that affect their short lifespan is predators. Each predator has its way of killing and eating skunks. Their main predators include bobcats, coyotes, owls, and eagles.

Coyotes, for instance, will go for the neck or back of the skunk. They will also go for the head but will avoid getting sprayed.

Bobcats usually wait for the skunk to dig a hole before attacking it from behind. Owls will either swoop down on the skunk or drop from a branch and land on it. Eagles, on the other hand, will snatch the skunk with their talons and carry it away to be eaten.

These are just some of the predators that can kill a skunk. Other animals will also eat them if they are already dead. These include opossums, weasels, raccoons, and foxes.

Lastly, because skunks have very poor eyesight, they risk being killed by cars while crossing the road.

rabies microscopic animated image

Disease

It’s safe to say that it’s pretty common that animals in the wild have higher chances of carrying a disease. Thus, also increasing the risk of transmitting it to humans.

Two diseases commonly affect skunks: rabies and canine distemper. Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system of mammals. It can be transmitted through saliva, usually via a bite. The virus then multiplies in the brain and spinal cord until it reaches the muscles. This will cause muscle spasms, paralysis, and death.

The canine distemper virus, on the other hand, affects dogs’ respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. The virus attacks the cells in these systems and will eventually kill the animal. It can also be transmitted to skunks.

Aside from these two, skunks can contract diseases such as mange, feline leukemia, and canine parvovirus. These diseases are deadly, not just for skunks but for other animals as well. That is why it is important to get your pet vaccinated against them.

a dead skunk in the lawn

Injury

Skunks are also prone to injuries. Since they dig a lot, they can get hurt by sharp objects such as broken glass or metal. The injuries can lead to infection and, eventually, death. Skunk deaths also occur while crossing the road because of their very poor eyesight.

Climate

The climate can also affect skunks. Extreme weather conditions can lead to dehydration, which can be deadly. In winter, skunks will sleep a lot to conserve energy. Their body temperature will drop during this time, and their metabolism will slow down. If the weather is too cold, they can die from hypothermia.

On the other hand, if the weather is too hot, skunks can die from heatstroke. When this happens, their body temperature will rise to dangerous levels, and they become dehydrated.

a threatened skunk

How to handle a skunk if you find one

If you encounter a skunk, it is important to remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Skunks are generally not aggressive animals, but they will spray if they feel threatened. If you must move, do so slowly and carefully. If a skunk does spray, try to avoid breathing in the fumes and wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible.

When you notice them for the first time in your yard, there are a few things you can do. Try to make your yard as unappealing to the skunk as possible. Remove any food sources, such as garbage cans, pet food, or bird seed. Keep your grass trimmed short, and remove any hiding spots, such as piles of wood or debris. You can also try to scare the skunk away by making loud noises or spraying it with a hose. If these methods don’t work, you may need to contact a wildlife control company to remove the skunk.

What NOT to Do

Do not approach the skunk, as it may feel threatened and spray you. Do not make loud noises, and do not try to scare it away. Their spray is extremely smelly and hard to remove.

But, you should also not try to catch or kill the skunk, as this is illegal in many states. Not to mention, it’s just plain cruel. And if you have a pet, do not let it outside if there is a skunk around. They could quarrel, and your pet could get sprayed too.

group of skunks running

Need Help With Skunks?

Skunks are no good to have around on your property. Their behavior causes damage, like digging holes, which can harm your pets or family members. If you think you have a skunk problem, call a professional immediately to have it removed. Do-it-yourself methods can be dangerous and ineffective. 

We at AAAC Wildlife Removal will safely and humanely remove the skunk from your property. We will also take steps to prevent skunks from returning in the future. Give us a call today!

Final Thoughts

Skunks are interesting creatures that act as biological control agents to help control the insect population. However, they have a pretty short lifespan. These animals can only live up to 2 to 3 years. While they live as long as 15 years in captivity, it can harm them and the whole wildlife ecosystem.

Skunks may be small, but they can cause big problems. This does not just refer to the physical property damage but also the risks to your health. If you ever encounter one, it’s best to avoid interaction and call AAAC Wildlife Removal if they don’t leave even after a few days.

FAQs

How many young skunks can female skunks have?

The skunk species can have litters of 2 to 6 baby skunks per breeding season.

What is the gestation period for skunks?

The gestation period for skunks is about 1 to 2 months, depending on the species.

What does skunk spray contain, and why is it extremely foul in smell?

The skunk spray is a mixture of thiol compounds. These compounds oxidize and produce a foul smell when exposed to the air.

What are other skunk species?

Aside from the striped skunk, species like the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura), eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius), and American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) exist. There are also far-flung species in Asia which are called stink badgers. They exist in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.