How to deal with problem Skunk in Massachusetts

Skunk (striped skunk, spotted skunk, polecat)


Skunks are house cat-sized mammals native to North America. There are several types of skunks. The striped skunk is the most common, found in nearly all of the continental United States and the southern half of Canada. It is mostly black with white on top of the head and neck and extending down the back, usually separating into two white stripes. Spotted skunks are the second most common, ranging from the southeastern U.S. to the northwestern Midwest and slightly west of the Mississippi River. Spotted skunks are smaller and black with white spots or short white streaks.

Skunks inhabit a variety of habitats including old fields, pastures, and woodland edges in rural and urban areas. They are nocturnal and become seasonally dormant in winter. They den in thick brush piles or woodchuck holes, and under decks and porches. Mating takes place during late February and early March, and an average of six blind and helpless young are born between late April and early June. About seven weeks later, the young begin to venture out with the female and are able to spray musk. Young skunks usually disperse during the fall of their first year.

Skunks are omnivorous but especially fond of insects, earthworms, small amphibians, mushrooms, small mammals, as well as fruits and nuts when seasonally available. They also will eat pet food and garbage if readily available. Skunks may damage lawns when they dig for grubs and insect larvae. When frightened or attacked by pets and predators, when interacting with other skunks, or when dying, they discharge a pungent spray that is nauseating to many.

Skunks are known carriers of rabies; therefore, any skunks observed behaving abnormally or sickly should be avoided. The following symptoms may indicate the presence of rabies or other neurological diseases in mammals: disorientation, impaired movement, paralysis or lack of coordination, unprovoked aggression, strange vocalizations, excess salivation, and unusually friendly behavior. If you see this behavior, avoid the animal and notify your local police or animal control officer.

Laws and regulations to be aware of

Regulations for Massachusetts

Relocation of Wildlife

No person shall transport any fish or wildlife species in Massachusetts. 

Exceptions to transporting and liberating wildlife in Massachusetts include: (a) Permitted Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitators may transport within Massachusetts and liberate rehabilitated wildlife; (b) a permitted Massachusetts problem animal control agent may liberate problem animals at the site of capture, or may transport within Massachusetts such animals to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or for the purposes of euthanasia.

Killing of Wildlife by Owner or Tenant of Land

Under Mass.General Law 131, Section 37, a property owner or tenant of land may hunt or take by other means, except by poison or snare, any mammal which he finds damaging his property, provided that such killing is not contrary to any federal law or regulation.  Animals killed under this law, must be reported to authorities within 24 hours.

Trap Types Restricted in Massachusetts

A person shall not use, set, place, maintain, manufacture or possess any trap for the purpose of capturing furbearing mammals, except for common type mouse and rat traps, nets, and box or cage type traps, as otherwise permitted by law. A box or cage type trap is one that confines the whole animal without grasping any part of the animal, including Hancock or Bailey's type live trap for beavers. Other than nets and common type mouse or rat traps, traps designed to capture and hold a furbearing mammal by gripping the mammal's body, or body part are prohibited, including steel jaw leghold traps, padded leghold traps, and snares.

Firearm Discharge

A person shall not discharge any firearm or release any arrow upon or across any state or hard surfaced highway, or within one hundred and fifty feet, of any such highway, or possess a loaded firearm or hunt by any means within five hundred feet of any dwelling in use, except as authorized by the owner or occupant thereof.

Legal, Regulated Hunting

The use of legal, regulated, hunting by licensed hunters can be useful for reducing local wildlife populations and can help reduce nuisance problems in Massachusetts. You can allow hunters on to your property, provide a place for them to park to access nearby forest, and/or give them permission to hunt within 500 feet of your residence. Please also keep in mind that each town may have additional by-laws that restrict hunting and the discharge of firearms.

Legal, Regulated Trapping

The use of legal, regulated, trapping by licensed trappers can be useful for reducing local wildlife populations and can help reduce nuisance problems in Massachusetts.

While we attempt to provide guidance about state and federal regulations pertaining to specific species and control techniques, we do not provide information about local jurisdictions (city, town, county, etc.) where regulations may be more restrictive, especially as it applies to discharge of firearms, transport of animals or use of trapping equipment. Contact your local city or county government to inquire further. No guarantee is made that information (or lack of information) associated with a species or control technique is completely accurate or current. You should become familiar with federal, state and local laws before beginning any wildlife control activities.