Love is in the air, and it stinks to high heaven. It is mating season for skunks and, unsurprisingly, being randy and redolent isn't a good combination, at least for us.
Simply put, the sex-starved stink badgers are skulking about spraying virtually everything that moves. Their amorous emanations can be detected more now than any other time of year, according to the experts.
Indiana skunks usually feel the urge to merge in the middle of March.
"Everybody is spraying everybody," said Kelle Kacmarcik, the wild-animal solutions manager at the WildCare rehabilitation hospital in San Rafael, Calif.
As usual in such matters, we can trace the unpleasant state of affairs to the males of the species, who are, let's just say, anxiety-ridden right about now.
"They are out there competing for females and competing for territory," Kacmarcik said. "The females spray the males when they don't want to mate. Then the males are competing, so they spray one another, and then, since they are so focused on breeding, they aren't paying attention to us and they get startled easily."
Skunks can shoot an oily mixture out of two glands in their anuses with near-pinpoint accuracy from 10 feet away, Kacmarcik said.
The pale-yellow fluid can cause temporary blindness and severe nasal and mucous membrane inflammation. The hideous combination smell of garlic, rotten egg and burned rubber is so powerful that it can ward off bears and be detected at least a mile away.
"It is pretty horrible," said Kacmarcik, who has been sprayed in the face twice at the animal hospital, the last time while someone else was handling a rescued skunk. "It's very bad. You can't even imagine."
The stink, as any dog owner whose pooch has encountered the black-and-white-striped beasts would know, is nearly impossible to get off and can linger for months. Which is why Kacmarcik recommends people keep their cats and dogs inside or on a leash this time of year.
Skunks, which live only about three years and are also sometimes called stink badgers or polecats, are members of the Mephitidae family, a unique group of mammals similar to, but genetically different from, ferrets, weasels, otters, badgers and wolverines.
They primarily come out only at dawn and dusk, and feed on plants, fungi, grasses, berries, roots and almost anything else smaller than themselves, including insects, larvae, earthworms, lizards, frogs, snakes, moles and birds. Around homes, they will seek human garbage.
The only successful skunk predator is the great horned owl, which has virtually no sense of smell and the ability to swoop from above undetected.
Skunks have powerful front claws and often dig burrows for their families. They will dig under fences and foundations, and use crawl spaces for shelter, to the dismay of homeowners who have been unfortunate enough to encounter the animals while checking their pipes.
"Even if you are a do-it-yourselfer, you do not want to be in a confined space with a skunk," said Kacmarcik, adding that WildCare uses predator scents and other nonlethal methods to ward off and remove skunks from people's property. "If they spray near the ductwork, then it just circulates throughout the house. I've had people call who have had to rent a hotel room because the smell was so bad."
The fluffy-furred animals generally give a warning before unleashing a tailpipe emission. Striped skunks, which are the most common in Indiana, lift their tails and stomp their front feet before letting loose. The spotted skunks, which are more common on the East Coast, do handstands before unloading.
That's assuming they have time. Quick movements are never a good idea around the creatures, which startle easily, Kacmarcik said.
"If you know you have some on your property, make some noise when you go outside and let them know you are coming and they generally run away," she said. "They are very docile animals. You can't blame them for spraying every now and then. It is their only defense mechanism."
Skunks have good hearing and a good sense of smell but terrible eyesight, which may explain why a lot of them get hit by cars. Folks should keep an eye out for them, Kacmarcik said – if not for the skunk's well-being, then certainly for ours.
"They are definitely a little more visible than usual," she said. "It's that time of year."
Story distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.