Skunks raising a big stink in Naperville, surrounding towns
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 14, 2011 3:50PM
The skunk population in the Chicago area is on the rise. | File photo
Here are some skunk facts, courtesy of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center:
The skunk’s defense system includes glands beneath the skunk’s tail which produce an oily, sulfurous substance which the skunk can spray with accuracy up to 10 feet, temporarily disabling the senses of a potential attacker and allowing the skunk to escape.
Skunks are nocturnal burrowing members of the weasel family, with a diet that includes insects, other small animals, fruits and carrion.
Trapping and removing skunks is illegal without the proper permits and is not always the solution to the problem. Removing the animal creates an open space for another animal. Residents can contact Willowbrook Wildlife Center for advice at 630-942-6200.
Updated: December 17, 2011 8:11AM
Some say a distinct and familiar odor can be detected in Naperville lately.
Although opinions differ on the actual numbers, a familiar black and white critter — the striped skunk — seems to be an increasing presence in town.
Naperville resident Jack MacRae, a naturalist at Glen Ellyn’s Willowbrook Wildlife Center, said he isn’t surprised if there is an increase in the skunk population.
“It’s cyclical, like any other animal population,” he said. “Some years it’s less and others more. It’s been a good year for plants and a good year for the insects that feed on plants. The animals feed on the insects ... it wouldn’t surprise me to see an increase.”
One person who has no doubt about the growing ranks of skunks is Tim Pettinelli, an animal control specialist with Prairie State Wildlife in Oswego.
“Absolutely there has been an increase,” he said.
Pettinelli cited figures from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that showed a 46 percent increase in the skunk population statewide.
“The uptick is due to a (past) rabies epidemic,” he said. “The population is rebounding to normal ... they have a high reproduction rate.”
Pettinelli said there is good news and bad news regarding the skunk situation.
The good news is that skunks are “generally pretty docile creatures ... they’re not aggressive.”
Pettinelli advised not making any quick movements when encountering a skunk. Pet owners should make sure their pets are up to date on their rabies shots in case they run into one of the striped creatures.
The bad news is that the Naperville area near Rickert Drive and West Street is particularly infested with the critters.
“The whole area is skunk central,” Pettinelli said.
But he reassured residents that incidents of humans actually getting sprayed by a skunk are “very uncommon.”
Bob Bluett, wildlife biologist at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, confirmed Pettinelli’s rabies theory. Bluett said that Illinois’ skunk population had indeed suffered a rabies epidemic in the early 1980s and it is only now that the population is getting back to normal.
But like Pettinelli, Bluett reassured residents about the limited danger posed by a random encounter with a skunk.
“They are near-sighted, so it’s easy to surprise them,” he said. “But they try to avoid you. They’re not real apt to come after you and try and get you.”
Bluett stressed that with the increased population, there is a natural rise in the number of rabid skunks. Although not all skunks have rabies, along with bats, they are the wildlife most prone to be carriers of the disease.
Willowbrook Wildlife Center officials said that skunks are at home in a variety of habitats but prefer forest borders where water is nearby. Suburbs like Naperville provide adequate food and shelter. Common den and resting sites include hollow logs, wood or rock piles and under buildings.
Naperville Animal Control officials said that skunks generally eat fruits, vegetables and other plants. They will also eat pet food and garbage when it is accessible.
There are some simple ways to prevent problems with skunks, city officials said:
Do not encourage skunks by feeding them
Keep pet food and watering dishes inside, especially at night
Do not allow spillage to accumulate outside bird feeders
Keep grills and barbecues clean, even the smallest food scraps may attract skunks
Do not keep garbage cans outside if possible
Cover window wells
Use welded wire to exclude animals from underneath decks, elevated sheds, openings under concrete slabs and porches. Secure outside access to crawl spaces.