bats at halloween

Eastern spotted skunk, polecat, civet cat – whatever you call them, they are a skunk. These skunks are smaller than the striped skunks we are used to and have been listed as endangered in Iowa for many years. In fact, they were thought to be extirpated (completely gone from) Iowa despite the fact they were once common throughout the state. They had high numbers in southern Iowa at one time. Before about 2015, the last credible sighting of a spotted skunk had been in 1992. If they still survived in our state, they thought southern Iowa, along the Missouri border was where they might be. But there have been a few reports over the past half dozen or so years from central and southern Iowa.

What caused the decline in spotted skunk numbers is unclear, but after World War II, our land use in Iowa changed. We had bigger farms, more grass was mowed, and we increased our pesticide use. All of these together likely aided the decline.

The central Iowa reports came from Camp Dodge north of Des Moines. They even got some photos on trail cameras. I guess having an area fenced off from the public since 1907 with limited disturbance by humans and a good amount of habitat was a good place for an endangered skunk. If they can survive in the middle of such a populated area, maybe there is a chance for their comeback.

Skunks are part of the mustelid family (ferrets, weasels, etc.). Spotted skunks weigh about two pounds and are faster than the more common striped skunk. They eat small mammals, grubs, insects, corn, grapes and mulberries. They can even climb trees to escape predators.  Of course, they have the ability to spray their foul-smelling musk up to 15 feet. This musk not only smells bad, but it can also burn the eyes of a would-be predator causing momentary vision loss. The skunk will give warning to would-be predators by stomping their feet, clicking their teeth and raising their tails. If the predator does not need these warnings, the skunk will turn, do a headstand, and spray.

Tomato juice will not get rid of the skunk smell, but I read on the Iowa DNR website that if you mix together ¼ cup baking soda, a fresh 1 quart bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish detergent in an open container, that will work. You do have to use it right away as it will lose its magic powers if stored. It also warns that it should not be used on cloth, as it can remove colors.

If you spot a spotted skunk, keep your distance, but do report it to the Iowa DNR. This will allow them to keep track of where they might be.

Skunks are not true hibernators. They slow down quite a bit in the winter months, but they will be active on warmer winter days. During the warmer, summer months they are mostly nocturnal, but can be out any time of day during any season. So don’t assume that a skunk is rabid just because you see it out during the day.