DON'T BEE SKUNKED!
The Striped Skunk is widely distributed, easily recognized, and hard to
forget. Opportunistic omnivores, skunks can find a meal anywhere. The apiary
offers skunks a bountiful feast. On skunk can decimate the entire population of
a hive in as little as three nights. Scratching at the entrance the animal
alerts the guard bees to a disturbance at the door. As they respond to protect
the hive, the skunk quickly devours the workers. As more bees emerge, they too
are consumed. Satiated, the skunk will waddle away to sleep off its delectable
meal and return the following evening. This behavior will continue until the
hive is vacant. If it finds any way to access the hive, the wax, pollen, and
honey would also be eaten.
Skunks generally give two warnings prior to releasing musk, first, repeatedly
stomping the ground with their front feet. That behavior is followed by raising
the tail. This signals the animal's serious intent. If the threat remains, the
skunk will either raise its hind legs or turn looking over its shoulder take aim
for the face, particularly the eyes, and spray. The range of this irritating
fluid is an incredible 8-15 feet and the mist of the spray can far exceed that
distance on a windy day.
Skunk spray is a clear, oily, amber substance called mercaptan. At night it
is luminous. Mercaptan is composed of seven volatile components divided into two
major groups, thiols and thioacetatte derivatives of thiols. Humans can detect
skunk spray thiols at 10 parts per billion. Two of the thiols,
tras-2-Butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, are responsible for the
strongly repellant odor of the secretion. The other compounds are not as
odoriferous, but are easily converted to the more potent thiols by water
hydrolysis. To get rid of the odor it is necessary to change the thiols by
oxidation to sulfonic acids. Use alkaline hydrogen peroxide, diluted vinegar
solution, or neutroleum alpha to remove skunk scent from pets or clothing.* An
effective commercial product "Skunk-Off" is available from many veterinarians
and pet stores.
The skunk's home range averages 0.5 to 1.5 square miles. This range may
increase up to 5 square miles during the breeding season, from February thru
May. One square mile can at anytime support a population of 5-15 skunks.
Prolific breeders, the skunk's kits, from 2 to 10 determined by the age of the
female, are born in May and are able to spray in 45 days. Skunks are highly
adaptable often living in close association with human habitat. To the farmer
and/or beekeeper, skunks can be particularly pestulant. The skunk can locate its
den in a woodpile, brush, under a deck, in a culvert or shed. Any sheltered area
can harbor these nocturnal invaders. In a bee yard, water, adequate shelter, and
food are readily available. Their presence can be discouraged or eliminated.
Fencing can minimize skunk problems. One-inch poultry netting is effective.
Bury the lower 12" extending 6" below the ground with 6" bent outward in an "L"
shape. Where fencing is impractical beehives can be elevated three feet above
the ground level. A smooth sheet of metal at the base makes the elevated hive
inaccessible to the skunk.
An alternative successful deterrant is to take a piece of plywood or a board
twelve inches wide and drive 2" long nails through it spaced one-inch apart.
Place this "pincushion" on the ground beneath the hive entrance.
Sometimes the only solution to a skunk invasion is elimination. All skunks,
striped, spotted, or hognose, are classified by law as non-game animals. They
are not threatened or endangered. They are not classified as fur-bearers. There
is no season or "bag limit" on skunks. With the exceptions of Weber, Davis, and
Salt Lake counties, Utah beekeepers and landowners are free to shoot trespassing
predatory skunks. It is necessary to contact Law Enforcement prior to using a
fire-arm within Weber, Salt Lake, and Davis counties. Outside the metropolitan
area if you want to shoot the pest, the Division of Wildlife Resources says, "Be
my guest!" Skunks may be shot anytime by the landowner on his own land. Be
aware, however, that shooting skunks often results in the spontaneous release of
Elimination can also be achieved by trapping. Leg-hold traps and snares are
permitted on private land if the property is primarily used for commercial
livestock, crop production, and beekeeping. The traps do not require disguise to
capture a skunk. Dogs and cats will generally avoid an exposed trap. Place traps
along skunk trails at eight foot intervals. Live-trapping is best accomplished
with a 10x12x32 cage-type trap baited with peanut butter. The top, bottom, and
sides of the trap can be covered with cardboard or 1/4" plywood. This reduces
the chance of being sprayed. Check the traps at least once a day. Relocation is
prohibited, any captured skunk should be destroyed.
State statutes also prohibit keeping skunks as pets. Skunks are second only
to racoons when it comes to reported cases of rabies. In addition to rabies,
skunks can carry leptosporosis, listeriosis, canine distemper, canine hepatitis,
Q-fever, tularemia, and trypanosoma. They also tend to be heavily infested with
fleas, ticks, and mites, which are well-known disease vectors.
There are no magic words nor guarantees for efforts made in elimination of
the familiar black and white raider. Precautionary actions are generally the
most effective in controlling wildlife damage. Bee aware, bee informed, and bee
careful when protecting hives and the honeybees in the Beehive State.
* - Alkaline Hydrogen Peroxide: 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup sodium
bicarbonate (baking soda), 1 tsp. liquid soap. Pets and people bathed with
alkaline hydrogen peroxide should be rinsed thoroughly with tap water.
Diluted Vinegar Solution: 2% vinegar and 98% water
Neutroleum Alpha: is available from many pest control operators or from the
Fritzche Brothers, Inc. Port Authority Building 76 Ninth Avenue New
This article first published in the UBA Spring 2001 Newsletter.