Skunks are wildlife you’ll occasionally see in your yard or even raiding your trash cans. You may have noticed that it’s quite difficult to tell how old a skunk is. So you’re probably wondering how long do skunks live?
The average life expectancy of a wild skunk is around 3 years old. Skunks have a short lifespan as most will die in their first year of life. The lifespan of an adult skunk is affected by predators, human activity, health, and the local climate.
You may want to know how long skunks in your local area will live. This guide will take you through all you need to know about what impacts on a skunk’s lifespan. You’ll also find advice about how to live alongside skunks and how to help them live longer.
Let’s get going.
How Long do wild skunks live?
Wild skunks can live up to 7-8 years old, yet most will die when they are around 2-3 years old. That’s because some skunks are more resilient than others and will defy the odds to live longer.
The reason the average age for a skunk to die is so low is that 50% of skunks will die before they get to one year old. Young skunks are more vulnerable to predators and disease, which will kill them off in large numbers.
Skunks who do make it past the first year are much more likely to live longer. The average age of a skunk that survives past the first year is 7 years old.
Mature skunks have experience and are more resilient against life factors that are threats to their survival. Let’s look at what things impact a skunk’s lifespan.
Why do Skunks have such a short lifespan?
1. Food Sources
One major threat to a skunk’s survival is the availability of food in their area. A steady food supply is essential to meet the skunk’s energy requirements each day. These requirements will increase at times such as mating and breeding season.
Skunks eat a diet made of mostly insects. Yet they are able to adapt their diet at various seasons of the year to what is available. They are opportunistic omnivores which helps them to survive through each season.
Skunks have adapted to survive through periods of low foods supplies such as winter time. To do this they will fill up with food when there is lots to go around. This helps them to put on fat layers and grow a winter coat.
If the skunks don’t do this they will find it hard to find food in winter. Poor weather conditions will make it hard to find a steady supply of food. This means they will likely starve to death. Young skunks going through their first winter are often victims of starvation.
Skunks have adapted to living alongside humans for an easy source of food. This includes eating from trash cans, pet bowls, and bird feeders. Skunks may over-rely on these food sources. Sadly this can lead to nutritional deficiency which can make them more vulnerable in the wild.
Skunks can be prey to a few larger predators who will eat them.
Common skunk predators include:
- Mountain lions
Although predators are thought to only make up around 5% of skunk deaths each year. The reason these predators tend to stay away from skunks is due to their defense mechanisms.
The skunk’s spray is surprisingly effective at keeping these predators away. Owls are the main predator of skunks and unsurprisingly are the ones least at risk from a spray.
Young and immature skunks are at the greatest risk of being eaten by predators. They are smaller and a little less inexperienced at using their spray for defense. Some predators may locate a skunk den and kill the kits when the mothers are foraging for food.
Domestic dogs can also be a risk for wild skunks. A dog can easily catch and kill a skunk that is foraging in your yard. Although just like other animals they may be wary of skunks if they’ve been sprayed before.
Despite their angry dances, skunks are not aggressive creatures. They rely heavily on their coloring, aggressive poses, and spray to warn off potential threats. Yet like any wild animal, they can use their teeth and claws to defend themselves if attacked.
Human trapping and hunting also pose a threat to skunk survival. Humans kill thousands of skunks every year for sport, meat, and fur. Skunks are also killed for their pest status and also when they are relocated to other areas.
A skunk’s general health with has a big impact on how long it will survive in the wild. Diseases and parasites are amongst the main causes of death for wild skunks.
Common diseases that affect wild skunks are:
- Canine hepatitis
These are just a few of the most common diseases that skunks are vulnerable to. One outbreak can often kill up to 80% of a local skunk population. The skunks most vulnerable to diseases are young, injured, and malnourished.
These diseases will make the skunk so sick and unwell that they will be unable to forage for food and water. They will also succumb to organ failure and fever as they don’t have access to treatment in the wild. Diseases also make skunks more vulnerable to predators if they are unable to run away or replenish their spray.
The habitat that a skunk lives in can put them at great risk of an injury. An injured skunk may be unable to find food, can contract an infection and is more vulnerable to predators.
Skunks that live in urban areas are at the greatest risk of injury. As skunks have very poor eyesight they can’t see vehicles coming which puts them at great risk of being hit. Most skunks will die when hit by a car, but they may also suffer broken bones, internal injuries, or large open wounds.
Other injuries that skunks sustain in urban areas usually involve human attempts to keep them off their land or out of their yard. Common injuries humans cause skunks are from gunshots, poison, or dog bites.
Injury can also result from devices uses by hunters or trappers which capture skunks. These may cause fatal injury immediately or expose the skunk to death by predators or starvation.
Skunks can also sustain injuries when they are trying to escape predators. They will also fight with other skunks to defend their territory or find a mate during the breeding season.
Skunks can be found all over the US and Canada, which means they’ll have to brave harsh winter conditions in some areas. Skunks don’t hibernate in winter, so they need to make special adaptations to help them survive.
The cold winter weather conditions mean that skunks will need to survive dangerously low temperatures. Skunks can go into a state of torpor when temperatures drip too low. This is like a mini-state of hibernation. It helps them to save energy and go for longer periods without needing to find food.
If a skunk has not stored enough fat, or there is a particularly long winter they may need to forage for food in bad weather. This can expose them to freezing weather, starvation, or exhaustion.
Finding a warm den that keeps them protected from the harsh weather will prevent the skunks from going into a state of hypothermia. Skunks are generally solitary creatures but will often den in together in winter to share body heat. Without a good den to shelter in the skunk can freeze to death.
How to help Skunks live longer in the wild
Skunks don’t have a long lifespan in the wild. This is mostly due to environmental factors, but also to factors caused by human influences. There are a few ways that you can try to minimize your impact on the local skunks and help them to survive a little bit longer.
Let’s look a 5 ways you can help wild skunks to live longer.
1. Prevent Injury
There is little you can do to stop skunks from sustaining an injury from natural wildlife causes. Yet you can reduce the impact that your dog may present to them. Pet dogs can attack any skunks that are trespassing in your yard.
Try to keep your dog indoors when it’s quite dark out. There are more likely to be skunks foraging in your yard or near your trashcans. This only benefits you, as the last thing you want at night is to be washing your dog down to get rid of skunk spray!
2. Don’t Feed them
It’s really important that you don’t purposely offer food and attract skunks to your yard. They may be attracted to pet bowls, trashcans, bird seed, or vegetable gardens.
Skunks have an amazing sense of smell and will keep coming back to your yard if they think it’s an easy food source. Eating food that is not intended for them can result in nutritional deficiencies.
Having skunks hanging around your yard is also a sure-fire way for you to get sprayed if you easily startle one mid forage.
3. Deter Humanely
Skunks can be beneficial to your yard by helping you to control insects. Yet they can be quite troublesome and cause damage to your landscaping and stinking the place up.
There are ways you can humanely deter skunks from your yard without killing them. Check out my guide on 14 easy ways to deter skunks from your yard.
Trapping and killing individual skunks is not the answer. You’ve maybe dealt with one problem but you’ve not solved it. If your yard is attractive to one skunk, there will be others who will take their place. Making your yard less attractive will keep them away without you having to turn to lethal methods.
4. Don’t relocate
You should never trap and relocate a skunk as it’s most certainly a death sentence for them. Relocated skunks will usually die very soon after they are in their new spot. That’s because the relocated skunk will struggle to find a food source or shelter in an unfamiliar area.
Relocated skunks are more likely to be attacked by predators, other wildlife, or skunks defending their territory. As the skunk is unfamiliar with the areas, they’ll stumble into a shelter that other wildlife use and will most likely be chased off, or killed.
Skunks that are trapped and relocated may be females with a litter of kits depending on her. Once the female is relocated the babies will be left to starve and become easy prey for nearby predators.
5. Find a rehabber
If you find a sick, injured, or orphaned skunk, then you should seek advice from a wildlife rehabber.
These services are the specialist in dealing with wildlife that needs help. They may even be able to collect and care for a skunk that is sick or injured. They may be able to nurse them back to health and release them back into the wild.
Never try to trap a wild skunk yourself. Make sure you give the location to the rehabbers and let them assess the animals themselves. A trapped skunk is likely to spray you. You’re also putting yourself and the skunk at risk by trapping a wild animal.
To find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area check out this resource from the humane society.
How long do skunks live in captivity?
Skunk in captivity can live up to 10-12 years. Captive skunks can be domesticated by removing their spray glands and sometimes de-clawing. Domesticated skunks don’t need to deal with the stress that wild skunks do. They also have access to health care which greatly improves their chances of survival.
Domesticated skunks have a steady food supply and are also protected from injury and predators. Due to this captive skunks will mainly die from old age rather than ill health or injury like wild skunks.
The average age of a wild skunk is 3 years olds. This number is low as most skunks will die in their first year of life. Skunks that survive to this age will usually live until around 7 years old.
The lifespan of a skunk will depend on various factors like its ability to source food, keep away from predators, and its health status.
Humans have a huge impact on a skunk’s ability to survive. Consider how you can reduce your impact on your local skunk population and help them to live longer.