Prentiss Riddle: Garden

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November 5, 2002, will long be remembered as the day the Republicans swept Texas and the nation, and I caught a skunk under the house.

I'd seen a couple of holes dug under the deck and the skirting of our pier-and-beam house but hadn't thought much about them until I saw an Unidentified Furry Object run into one late one night. In the dark I couldn't tell what it was; my first guess was raccoon, since I knew we had raccoons on the porch pretty regularly looking for leftover cat food, but its fuzzy gray shape didn't seem right and the hole seemed too small. Nor did it quite look like a possum, and do possums burrow, anyway?

After consulting some local sites on humane trapping I bought a cheap Havahart live trap at the hardware store ($30-$40 for the largeish, one-doored raccoon model). I baited it with cat food for a couple of rainy nights and caught nothing. Then on Tuesday night the weather turned clear and I thought, this is it.

Of course the first thing I caught was our cat. I'd expected that, but figured I'd only catch her once and she'd learn. Sure enough, the trap was quiet until 4:30 this morning, when I woke up to the sound of wild thumping and rattling. I turned on the porch light and saw -- oh no -- a skunk.

Specifically, I think it was a common Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). I never saw a stripe, but it definitely was black with white fur on its head, much like the specimen on the right above.

Great, what am I supposed to do now? I thought. Pay somebody a hundred bucks to haul it off because I won't be able to move it or open the cage without getting sprayed?

But before I panicked, I visited the helpful Havahart skunk pages. There I learned that if I covered the cage with a blanket, I could probably handle it safely.

Blurry photos appropriate to my mental state at the time.
Left: Skunk Patrol Agent Riddle reporting for duty, sir! Note blanket, mask, balaclava. Not shown: eye protection, gloves.
Right: "Nessie" the skunk (NASA-enhanced photo).

So after improvising some chemical warfare gear, I followed Havahart's skunk tips. They worked like a charm. I loaded the blanked-covered cage on top of our minivan, drove to a nearby wilderness preserve (resisting my wife's suggestion to release it at the Governor's Mansion!), carefully opened the cage and stood back. The skunk walked out and scurried into the brush. Success!

Now I get to repeat the process tonight, for, as the online Mammals of Texas site says:

They are social creatures; often several individuals occupy a well-situated winter den. J.D. Bankston of Mason, Texas informed us that he removed as many as seven striped skunks from one winter den and that one of his neighbors found 10 in one den in December.
Seven to ten skunks! Wish me luck. The good news is that with all this experience, I may soon have an honest trade to fall back on. There'll always be money in wrangling skunks.
garden 2002.11.06 link


Hi Prentiss,

What an adventure. I felt like I was reading a special feature on domestic vermin at National Geographic. (can they be considered vermin, btw? remember I am just a foreigner). I didn't know you had a revolutionary at home. I loved her suggestion of releasing the skunk at the governor's mansion!

Enigmatic Mermaid [enigmaticmermaid ARROBA uol PUNTO com PUNTO br] • 2002.11.06
The definition of "vermin", like that of "weed" or "pornography", is subjective. A skunk in a wilderness area is a delightful specimen of wildlife. A skunk under my house is, if not quite vermin, then certainly a pest.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.06
I know scent is notoriously hard to describe, and I have heard that skunks smell very very very bad.

But for a Brit who has never smelled one, can you make any comparisons to help me imagine it?

Without meaning me any harm, a prankster friend at college once maced me in the face [at least it was some kind of anti-attack spray, if not mace] in my room, and it felt as if my mouth was suddenly full of incredibly strong perfume. I had to crawl very quickly out of the room in order to breathe again.

I suppose skunks are a bit like that?

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2002.11.09
I've never smelled mace, so I don't know whether that's a good comparison or not. Have you ever smelled the stink of a really nasty refinery town? Skunk is like that, only more intense, and with its own characteristic bouquet on top. Plus from what I hear it has other nasty effects if you get a direct hit, such as burning sensations and temporary blindness. It's a very good deterrent for predators.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle ARROBA io PUNTO com] • 2002.11.09
Ah. Yes, that sounds bad. Thanks.

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2002.11.09
Congradulations on a successful removal mission. You never get skunked when you go after your skunk!

David Weisman [davidwei ARROBA optonline PUNTO net] • 2003.03.29
I live in the country in Oregon. Yesterday both of my dogs were sprayed by a skunk. Do you know of any plant or something that would repel them from my yard?

Shirley [suggey3 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2004.11.27
have you ever been skunked

zcx [zxdv cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2005.11.06
Very Pragmatic! (Perhaps there would be some peoples out there which will call this loveless ;)

Cat [goop cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.12.05
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