What Do Skunks Eat? and How Do They Find Food?

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Skunks, the stinky mammals, have been a common nuisance to backyards during the night for quite some time now. Most of us have known skunks to eat out of trash cans, but what else do skunks eat? What can you feed a pet skunk, and what should you be feeding a baby skunk if you ever rescued one? This is what we’ll discuss in the post and more. 

Before that, let us know what exactly skunks are and understand a little more about them. 

What are Skunks?

Skunks are small, furry animals with black and white stripes. Some skunks are striped, and some are spotted or have swirl patterns on their fur. No matter the pattern, the black-and-white colouring is a warning sign to anyone who may harm this small creature. They pack a wallop of a defence mechanism — noxious odours produced from their well-developed scent glands. 

Also called polecat, a black-and-white mammal, found primarily in the Western Hemisphere, that uses extremely well-developed scent glands to release a noxious odour in defence. The term skunk, however, refers to more than just the well-known striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis).

The skunk family is composed of 11 species, 9 of which are found in the Western Hemisphere. Primarily nocturnal, skunks are diverse carnivores that live in a wide variety of habitats, including deserts, forests, and mountains. Most are about the size of a housecat, but some are significantly smaller.

Skunks are legendary for their powerful predator-deterrent—a hard-to-remove, horrible-smelling spray.

What do Skunks eat? (full list)

Skunks are very adaptive animals, and they eat almost everything they can find available in their surroundings. From animals, pet foods to carrion and insects, here is a full list of what skunks eat.

Insects

The aforementioned skunks are immune to snake venom; however, they are also immune to bee stings which is why wasps and honeybees make the base of a skunk’s diet. Skunks are taught to prey on honeybees from the initial stages, where the mother skunk shows the baby skunk to dig up and scratch the hive and nab any bee that comes out. 

The primary diet of skunks also includes grubs, insect larvae, crickets, beetles, earthworms, and other kinds of insects and worms. These omnivores also enjoy feeding on roaches, moths, caterpillars, ants (of course), and grasshoppers.

Plants

Depending on the habitat and the surrounding they live in, skunks eat myriad types of berries such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Pet skunks kept as exotic pets enjoy feeding on these too. Nuts such as pecans, hickory nuts and walnuts make for a significant part of a skunk’s diet. 

They also feed on mushrooms, certain roots, grass, and other greens such as leaves. 

Animals

Skunks eat a number of animals, from small mammals to eggs and birds. In mammals, skunks owing to their small size, have limited prey such as mice, rats, and moles, all of which are mostly only available during the winter and towards the end of fall. 

Skunks also eat frogs, toads, and lizards like salamanders and anoles. Lizards and Salamanders are great to fulfil the protein needs of the skunks. They often eat skinks too. 

An interesting part of the skunk’s diet is snakes because skunks are strongly immune to the toxic bite snakes can deliver. Skunks also eat snake eggs. In fact, they eat any egg they can, whether it is a bird egg or snake egg, which is why they are known as ‘egg thieves’ for their mischievous nature. 

Although skunks mostly prey on land animals such as lizards, snakes, and mice, they also often prey on fish, which is why they are a common nuisance to people with ponds. Skunks often pose a problem for birdkeepers and poultry farms near a skunk’s habitat because skunks have a reputation with chickens, and they make the favourite part of a skunk’s diet.

Other

Amongst other things that skunks eat, mostly in the urban areas, human garbage tops the list. These nocturnal thieves are also known to steal pet foods kept for outdoor animals, especially dog and cat food. Since urban skunks are mostly dependent on animals for food, they often eat up bird feeders and food such as sardines, bacon, peanut butter, and bread. 

Skunks also feed on carcasses and caring for animals like snakes, rats and cats. If available, they also feed on the carrion of animals multiple times larger than them, most often cattle and deer.

 

How do Skunks find their food in the wild?

Depending on the species of skunks, the method of hunting and finding food differs slightly. How skunks find food also greatly depends on their habitat and the environmental conditions around them. Here are a few methods used by skunks to find food:

Thieving

You can’t blame the skunks for doing what they need to survive. Skunks often steal food from other animals and are especially grateful to animals that often store their food in the ground for later. Similar to raccoons, skunks raid others’ food; they use their snout to smell out stored food in the ground and steal it away. 

Viola! All food, no hard work.

Rooting

This is a common method used by skunks for finding food, especially by the hog-nosed skunks. The long bare snout of the hog-nosed skunks makes it easier for the creatures to sniff and find food. They are constantly rooting their nose into the ground to push away dirt and get their ‘nose’ on treats such as worms, grubs and other treats. 

Other skunks use their snout to smell food, owing to the skunk’s strong sense of smell. Since skunks have weak eyesight, they rely on their snout to find food.

Digging

Thanks to the skunk’s long claws, they can dig deep into the ground to forage for food such as grubs, larvae, and, as mentioned, food stored by other animals. Skunks can dig a hole as deep as 4 inches to find insects lying underneath, all while also digging dens and burrows to fend from animals while sleeping during the day. 

 

What do different species of Skunks eat in the wild?

Striped Skunk

The Striped Skunks can find food nearly in every habitat that they live in, and hence they are also considered opportunists. They can find a wide variety of insects like Grasshopper, cricket or beetles in their habitats. They can also feed on other vertebrates like fish, rodents, reptiles and amphibians. And almost 10% of their diets also consist of plant materials like different fruits, leafy greens and vegetables.

Hooded Skunk

Hooded Skunks primarily prey on insects like earwigs, stink bugs and beetles. And in addition, they also consume birds, rodents and amphibians. Scientists and researchers also find that hooded skunks consume carrion or a decaying animal. Being an omnivore species, their diet mostly comprises vegetation like prickly pear, and they also consume insects, small vertebrates and bird eggs. 

Hog-nosed Skunk

Hog-Nosed skunk enjoys feasting on a wide variety of insects, and they have made it a daily phenomenon. With the help of their hairless snout to root and formidable digging claws, they consume insects easily. Since beetles, grub and larvae are found on the topmost layer of the soil, they are mostly preferred by them. They primarily feed on insects, and they have a powerful sense of smell, with strong forelimbs and large claws which help them to dig up buried insects. For this, they are also known as rooter skunks. Hog-Nosed Skunks are also found occasionally feeding on carrion, small reptiles, and berries.

Spotted Skunk

The western spotted skunks are primarily found preying and feeding on reptiles, birds, eggs and fruits. When there is an opportunity, they gravitate towards insects and small mammals. They are omnivores which feed on insects like beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets. In summer, they eat rodents, small vertebrates and birds in winter and spring, and they feed on fruits and vegetables whenever available.

 

What do Skunks eat in different seasons?

A skunk’s diet varies depending on seasons, mostly divided into three main categories: summer and spring, fall, and winter. Here is what a skunk eats in the three different seasons:

Summer and Spring

It is the perfect weather to breed and reproduce, with an abundance of food. During summer, Skunks are blessed with a variety of food. They mostly feed on animal protein rather than plant protein during summer. They search for insects, small rodents, reptiles, chicken, mice, larvae and eggs. They also feed on a variety of house pests, including cockroaches, chicken, beetles, black widow spider, bees, and mice during summer seasons.

Fall

The availability of food is significantly restricted in the winter and fall season, especially during the cold months. During this season, the skunks rely only on small prey that they can readily catch and get. In order to keep themselves warm during mid-winter dormancy, they eat as much as they can in the fall. Thick layers of fat get created underneath their skin due to this binge eating, and it keeps them warm in winter. This fat gets metabolized during dormant rests but at a slower rate than in summer.

Winter

During winter, skunks come out of their den or torpor when the temperature is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit and forage for food at night. At night they may easily get insects to eat, but they also eat eggs, frogs, snakes, earthworms and other small vertebrates. They even forage for berries, leaves, grass and nuts during winter nights. In winter, when the food sources are scarce, the garbage around urban environments make for attractive nesting and feeding spots for skunks.

 

What do Skunks eat in zoos and captivity?

In a captive or zoo environment, a skunk is usually fed with commercial insectivores, omnivores and carnivores diet. These commercial foods are manufactured by many different brands for animals like skunks. 

Other than these commercial foods, many individuals in zoos are mainly fed with a variety of insects and animal materials, including rodents, insects, eggs, fruits, grasses and berries. To provide them with correct nutrition, they are also fed with supplements.

Their diet is carefully monitored in the zoos, and it is made sure that they get proper nutrition to stay healthy. In Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the striped Skunks consume mainly leafy greens and vegetables. They are sometimes provided with mice, eggs, nuts and fruits.

In captivity or in homes, a skunk’s diet mainly consists of fruits, grains, vegetables and some kind of protein like chicken or fish. 

 

What do Baby Skunks eat?

Baby skunks, also called kits, mainly survive on their mother’s milk. The orphaned kits are reared by offering them with Esbilac powder or other milk powder that contains 3.3% fat unless they are old enough for solid foods. In the initial two months of its life, a Skunk is nursed by its mother. Once baby skunks are about 8 inches long or four months old, they come out of their den and begin learning to forage and take care of themselves from their mothers. As they start to wean, they learn to eat other foods, and after their weaning, their diet consists of 80% of vegetation and 20% protein from dog kibble, turkey, chicken or fish.

A baby skunk needs proteins, vitamins and all essential minerals to stay healthy; thus, you should incorporate all these into a regular baby skunk diet. Improper feeding may cause kidney stone, bone spurs, poor development and bone calcification in baby skunks.

Proper nutrition can be given to baby skunks by feeding them with the formula prescribed by an animal control professional or by giving them a mixture of KMR and warm water. Once the skunks are three months old, you can feed them with eggs, carrots, vegetable oil, yoghurt, vanilla wafer, chopped mushrooms, peas, corn and nuts and so on.

 

What should you feed a pet skunk?

Although skunks are wild animals, some states and countries allow keeping them as exotic pets. If you have a pet skunk or you’re thinking of having one, going by your state regulations, you need to be very careful about their diet. Yes, skunks may be animals that eat almost anything; it is important to know that their diet meets all their bodily requirements. Thus, when feeding a pet skunk, you need to ensure that proper nutrition is met. 

Skunks are vulnerable to bone fractures if their diet does not have enough calcium. Thus, you should feed the pet skunk a diet that meets proper calcium requirements. Occasional servings of broccoli, DLGVs, cottage cheese, tofu, okra, walnuts and green snap beans should be included in the skunk’s diet. If the diet can not meet a skunk’s calcium requirements, consult an exotic pet’s vet who can prescribe calcium supplementation.

It is essential to provide a skunk with carnitine and taurine supplementation since skunks are highly susceptible to heart diseases. Before consulting a vet for carnitine and taurine supplements that could help the pet skunk, you should include fishes, oatmeal, yoghurt and tofu in the skunk’s meal. These are strong sources of taurine. You should also incorporate beef into the meal since it makes for a strong source of L-Carnitine. Lean meat and most other meat can also be given for supplying carnitine to the pet skunk. 

On a general note, frozen, cooked, and especially fresh vegetables and fruits make for important inclusions in the pet skunk’s diet. Grains, cereals, nuts, yoghurt, and healthy veggies and fruits such as peas, carrots, corn, berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry), pears, apples, potatoes, and sweet potatoes should be included in the diet. 

Lean protein is a crucial part of a skunk’s diet; therefore make sure to feed chicken, poultry eggs, and fish to your pet skunk. When it comes to carbs, rice, oatmeal, whole-grain loaves of bread and pasta make for great sources. 

Apart from vegetables, fruits, meat and cereal, dog food makes for easy and healthy meals for skunks. Feeding the skunk small portions of dog food prevents tartar accumulation in their teeth; however, it is important that the dog food is all-natural and does not include highly processed ingredients.

A great replacement to dog food is the commercially available skunk diet (although not every brand sells an exotic pet diet). The Exotic Nutrition Pet Company’s Skunk Diet is an ideal choice for skunks to meet their nutritive requirements.

It is important to note that skunks are vulnerable to obesity; therefore, you need to keep a watch on not only what you are feeding your pet skunk but also how much of it. It is suggested to feed adult skunks twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening, while baby skunks or skunk kits should be fed several times a day.

What should you not feed a Skunk?

There are certain foods a skunk might enjoy having but should never be fed. Aforementioned, you should keep a skunk away from highly processed foods, and that’s not just pet food but also processed meat such as hot dogs and lunch meats such as bologna, bacon and fried foods. Although it is okay to feed dog food, it is not advised to feed cat food to a skunk due to the high amount of fat involved. 

You should be doubly aware of feeding the skunk chocolate, lettuce and fatty foods. They should also never be fed onions and asparagus since asparagus is known to cause seizures in skunks and certain other animals.

 

FAQs

Q. What food attracts skunks to my yard?

A skunk usually gets attracted to a house or a yard because of the bird seeds and sunflower seeds. Foods like pet food, garbage, grills and lumber are also a good source of attraction to skunks. They also indulge in berries, leaves and nuts that they find fallen or at a low hanging height in your yard.

Q. How to get rid of skunk spray (smell)?

In order to get rid of a skunk spray, one has to take quick action and the right products. When you or your pet has been sprayed by a skunk, go for an immediate bath or shower, then create a mixture with one-quarter of 3% hydrogen peroxide, half cup baking soda and one teaspoon of dish soap and lather the mixture onto the victim’s skin or fur and rinse and wash thoroughly with the mixture.

Q. Do skunks eat cats?

No, they don’t eat cats or any other pet in your house. They can attack pets like cats and dogs and hurt them seriously, but they don’t feed on them. They attack small kittens only when they are left unprotected, so the owner of kittens need to be cautious around skunks.

Q. What do skunks like to eat the most?

In general, skunks don’t have a specific menu or favourite food, they eat whatever is available mainly for survival and to stay healthy. They are easily drawn to foods with a strong smell because of their powerful sense of smell. Foods with high protein like fish, meat, mice, insects, butter, chicken, and frogs attract them. They prefer animal protein to plant protein, and hence small animals like rodents, pets, snakes and insects are an essential part of their diet.

Foods like canned cat food, tuna fish, sardines, crisp bacon and bread and peanut butter can be used to attract skunks and trap them if they have become pests in your yard.

Q. Do skunks eat chicken?

Skunks are notorious and a large threat to chickens; they can easily break into their coops and raid it for chicks, eggs and whatever they can eat. Usually, they attack defenceless chicks and eggs, but sometimes they even attack adult chickens who are too large to eat. Their short and stocky bodies make them excellent diggers, and they gain entrance to the coops this way. Climbing fences is not preferred by skunks for entering the coop as they are not known for being good climbers.

 

Sources

  1. Eastern Spotted Skunk
  2. Facts About Skunks
  3. Striped Skunk

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  5. Do Ducks Eat Fish?

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