8 Predators That Eat Skunks

Most common skunk predators

Although it’s rare to see them, a skunk’s signature stench can linger for days. Beyond that, skunks are also excellent survivalists, living in both rural and urban areas. That said, there are a few predators that call skunks food.

Animals that prey on skunks include coyotes, foxes, bobcats, cougars, badgers, great horned owls, vultures, and even the occasional domesticated dog. There are a few techniques that skunks rely on to avoid these predators, including their odorous spray, fleeing the scene, and even fighting!

Even the pickiest predator may turn to a smelly meal. With that in mind, let’s look at eight predators that eat skunks—and what skunks do to avoid them.

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How Do Skunks Defend Themselves From Predators?

While there are many vicious carnivores that are larger than them, skunks are not easy to take down.

Many skunks only weigh two to three pounds, but they pack a punch. In fact, the National Wildlife Federation estimates that only 5% of skunks are eaten by predators.

When it comes to predators, skunks have a surprisingly high survival rate for a couple of reasons. They are quite elusive—many skunks rely on sneaking around to avoid predators. They are also tiny tricksters. This might be why very few predators prefer skunks over other prey.

So how do the small critters stay out of the jaws of hungry animals? Let’s take a look.

They’re Normally Nocturnal—But Become Diurnal Around Predators!

Skunks prefer to skulk around and scavenge for food at night. That’s because their diet relies on a mix of insects, small animals, berries, nuts, and even any spare birdseed and pet food that they can find.

Since their preferred prey is out at night, so are they.

However, skunks are keenly aware of their surroundings. Despite their poor eyesight, they have excellent senses of smell and hearing.

If a skunk senses that a predator is living nearby, it will start to search for food during the day. This is because many predators that eat skunks are also nocturnal.

Skunks are most likely to venture out during the day in the spring when they are recovering from winter. Additionally, younger skunks are more likely to become temporarily diurnal as they learn where and how to find food.

Skunks Turn Tail And Run When In Danger

Skunks are quite small, and while they have sharp teeth and claws, they aren’t eager to use them. If they sense danger, most skunks will run.

Despite their offensive odor, skunks are mostly docile. They don’t like to engage with other creatures, especially ones that intend to eat them.

Instead, skunks will seek out a den if they sense immediate danger. Most skunks have at least one den they can return to in the event of danger. These can be dens they have dug themselves, or a den they appropriated from another animal.

While in their dens, skunks have some protection. Depending on the species of the skunk, their den can go down two to three feet. This provides ample protection from most predators.

However, sometimes a skunk can’t make it back to their den in time. In cases like that, they have other strategies.

They Warn Intruders With a Dance

A skunk’s survival depends on warning enough predators away.

In fact, according to the National Park Service, that is why skunks have their distinctive black-and-white patterning. It serves both as camouflage and warning coloration so that any predator that encounters a skunk will connect their stripes to their stench.

When that isn’t enough, though, a cornered skunk will warn a potential predator by stomping its feet, hissing, and lifting its tail.

The stomping and hissing are meant to make the skunk appear larger than it actually is, while the lifted tail lets the predator know, “I will spray you.”

Sometimes a predator will keep advancing. That’s when a skunk will deploy its most successful defense mechanism.

Skunks Spray – And It Smells!

Anyone who has smelled skunk spray knows that it’s a successful repellent. And that’s what the spray is intended to do: get predators to skedaddle.

Skunks are able to spray because they have a special gland in their rear. Most carnivores have this gland, but skunks are the only animal that has turned it into a repellent spray.

Skunks are able to release their spray as either a jet by directing it at their target or as an atomized cloud as they run away.

Skunks are not able to spray continuously—in fact, it takes several days for this special gland to recharge. That’s why skunks use their spray as a last resort.

If you’re intersted in their super interesting defense mechanism, take a peak at our article on how far skunks spray!

Skunks Don’t Like To Fight—But They Will

Skunks aren’t renowned fighters. They will usually rely on running and spraying. That said, these little critters do have sharp teeth and claws, and they will use them.

If a cornered skunk is out of spray, they will bite or scratch at an opponent. They are small and unlikely to do much damage unless the skunk in question is rabid.

However, skunks are much less likely to fight predators than they are to fight each other. Males are territorial and fight over female skunks. For predators, skunks are much more likely to deploy other survival methods.

So what predators eat skunks? Let’s take a look…

8 Animals That Eat Skunks (And Why They Do!)

Skunks are not a favorite meal for most predators, with the exception of one (we’ll get to that later). Their stench is enough to warn most hungry carnivores off.

But in desperate times, there are several animals that will eat skunks.

1. Coyotes

Coyotes are one of the most common predators in North America, so it makes sense that they would eat the occasional skunk.

In fact, coyotes aren’t very picky eaters at all. According to the National Park Service, coyotes will eat whatever is seasonally and regionally available to them.

Coyotes are what are known as opportunistic predators. They shift their diet based on the region they are in, and largely hunt alone or in family groups as opposed to packs.

(Coyotes do have one surprising hunting partner, but we’ll get to that later)

Why Would Coyotes Eat Skunks?

Coyotes’ voracious appetites mean that they can enter almost any territory and survive. In fact, coyotes live in every state where skunks have been found.

Even though their stench can be off-putting, coyotes have been known to hunt and kill skunks in lean times. The spray of a skunk is no match for a coyote’s scrappy, survivalist attitude.

Coyotes are timid around humans or any animals they think can put up a fight. However, coyotes can be vicious when it comes to prey smaller than them. They typically flush their prey into areas where they are trapped or pounce on smaller prey to pin them down.

How Do Coyotes Typically Catch Skunks?

It’s hard for prey to escape coyotes because these canines are fast, reaching speeds of 35-40 miles per hour.

Skunks are natural-born runners. They prefer flight over any other defense mechanism, which means they are prone to falling into a hungry coyote’s trap.

Largely, though, coyotes prefer to eat rabbits or white-tailed deer, depending on what’s available in their territory. Urban coyotes have also become more reliant on scavenging food left behind by humans.

2. Foxes

Foxes are well-known as clever creatures. There are four varieties of fox found in North America: the kit fox, the red fox, the swift fox, and the arctic fox. At least one variety of fox can be found in every US state.

Unlike skunks, foxes are normally diurnal, meaning they’re most active during the day. However, they also will become crepuscular—active during dawn and dusk—when hunting or scavenging for food.

Why Would Foxes Eat Skunks?

Foxes are omnivores who eat meat, berries, and fruit. While they are known to eat carrion, foxes are also fantastic hunters. Like coyotes, foxes are opportunistic hunters. They prefer to eat small mammals as well as a juicy insect or two.

While skunks aren’t a favorite food for them, foxes have been spotted eating skunks.

How Do Foxes Hunt Skunks?

There are a few qualities that help foxes hunt animals like skunks: first, foxes are very fast.

Red foxes, which are the most prevalent species in North America, can reach speeds of over 30 miles per hour. Skunks can only run about 10 miles per hour.

Furthermore, foxes hunt using a pouncing method. Once they locate prey they will crouch down and then pounce on their target, immobilizing it.

Do Foxes Want To Eat Skunks?

Despite their amazing hunting tactics, foxes won’t choose to prey on skunks first. This is because foxes have an acute sense of smell, and can easily be deterred by skunk spray.

Instead of hunting skunks, many foxes will scavenge for deceased skunks. This assures that they won’t be sprayed, and will still get a filling meal.

3. Bobcats

Bobcats are a species of medium-sized wild cats, named such because of their distinctive bobbed tail. These fearsome hunters can be found in almost all of the contiguous United States.

Furthermore, these crepuscular animals are entirely carnivorous, unlike foxes. They also prefer to hunt for their food rather than scavenge for it.

Like most other predators, bobcats don’t intentionally seek out skunks. In fact, they prefer rabbits over most other prey. However, bobcats have been spotted eating skunks.

How Do Bobcats Hunt Skunks?

First, let’s look at how bobcats hunt. They usually chase down prey in short bursts with their speed topping out at 30 miles per hour. Then—like foxes—they will pounce.

Bobcats are also excellent leapers with an impressive vertical jump. In fact, a bobcat has been known to catch low-flying birds out of the air.

Above all else, bobcats prefer to eat smaller animals. Since bobcats are only 30-40 pounds, they don’t push their luck by hunting larger animals unless it’s dire—bobcats hunt larger animals only when desperate.

Why Do Bobcats Eat Skunks?

Skunks, who are slow-moving and small, make excellent prey for bobcats. The only deterrent is, of course, their spray.

While they rely more on vision and hearing than any other sense, bobcats do have an acute sense of smell.

Thus, bobcats rely on sneaking and quickly pouncing when hunting skunks. If they strike fast enough, they can avoid the spray.

Unfortunately, bobcats aren’t exempt from this dog-eat-dog world—there are actually several predators that also eat bobcats, including the next predator…

4. Cougars

Cougars (also known as mountain lions or pumas) are some of the largest predators in the United States. In fact, these beasts have a range throughout North and South America.

While cougars are normally crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), these cats can be active both at night and day. That means that skunks who venture out during the day to avoid predators may still wind up bumping into a hungry cougar.

These cats are big—cougars can get as hefty as 220 pounds, and up to almost 8 feet long. And they have big tastes to match. Cougars are carnivores, and they tend to feast on deer but will also settle for elk and sheep.

Of course, even the biggest predator likes the occasional snack, and that includes skunks. They will also eat rabbits, raccoons, porcupines, and other small mammals and birds.

Cougars hunt through stealth, using cover to stalk their prey until they can strike. Skunks can be at a disadvantage during this time, and the cougar’s strength and speed easily outmatches tiny skunks.

That said, even powerful predators like cougars have limits. There have been reports of skunks scaring off cougars by lifting their tails and threatening to spray.

5. Badgers

Badgers and skunks are closely related—which must make family reunions awkward since badgers are known to eat skunks.

Badgers actually look quite similar to skunks. Most types of badgers have black and white striped faces, and they are small and low to the ground like their skunk cousins. They are also primarily nocturnal.

Like skunks, badgers are omnivores who eat berries, leaves, small rodents and frogs, and large insects. However, they are also hunters, whereas skunks tend to forage and scavenge.

In fact, badgers are such fearsome hunters that they are known to team up with coyotes.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, badgers and coyotes will occasionally hunt together in warmer months.

How Do Coyotes and Badgers Work Together To Hunt Skunks?

But why is this? As previously shared, coyotes are fast, topping out at speeds of 40 miles per hour. On the other hand, badgers are great diggers. The two work together by using these strengths: coyotes chase and trap prey, while badgers dig them out.

For animals like skunks, this is bad news—especially for skunks who have run out of their spray and are waiting for it to recharge in their den.

When Do Badgers Eat Skunks?

Skunks are especially prone to badgers in the winter. During colder months, skunks stay in their dens and occasionally enter a low activity state known as torpor. Badgers, on the other hand, continue to hunt during the winter except on extremely cold days.

Since badgers are excellent diggers, they can dig skunks straight out of their dens during these low-activity states. In fact, badgers rarely give up—which is why wearing someone down is known as “badgering.”

6. Great Horned Owls

Great horned owls are large and fearsome birds that prey on a number of small animals. In fact, commonly used decoy owls like this Dalen Fake Decoy Owl are based on great horned owls.

Great horned owls are one of the biggest varieties of owls in North America. It is also one of the most common owls and has a wide range, including grasslands, wetlands, forests, deserts, and cities. Their success is due to their fearsome hunting strategies.

Their diet ranges from smaller prey like frogs, rodents, and insects to larger animals like duck, geese, and raptors that are larger than them like ospreys and peregrine falcons. That’s right—great horned owls eat other birds of prey.

Great horned owls locate their prey from above. After they set their sights on a mark, they swoop down and grapple it. For smaller prey like rats, owls can grip and consume them pretty quickly. This is because of their strong talons, which require 28 pounds of force to open.

Why Do Great Horned Owls Hunt Skunks?

It’s very hard to escape a great horned owl. And one of their favorite foods is skunks—in fact, great horned owls are the only predator that seeks out skunks.

So why is that? It’s because great horned owls don’t have a sense of smell.

A closeup of a Great horned owl on a tree branch under the sunlight with a blurry background

Skunks rely heavily on their spray for defense. Ideally, a predator only needs to smell them once to develop a negative association with skunks. But because great horned owls can’t smell, they are not repelled.

In addition, skunks’ secondary defense is running and hiding. But since great horned owls hunt from above, skunks don’t even see them until it’s too late.

Like coyotes, great horned owls are no particularly picky eaters. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management has identified over 250 species that great horned owls prey upon.

7. Vultures (With The Help Of Cars)

Vultures are large birds who are well-known for feasting on carrion. There are three species of vultures in the United States: the California condor, the black vulture, and the turkey vulture. All three are primarily diurnal, but have been spotted eating at night.

Unlike the other animals on this list, vultures do not prefer to hunt—rather, they are scavengers who eat any fresh carrion they can find. When vultures do hunt, they opt for small mammals such as rodents. That is, except turkey vultures—these birds do not hunt at all.

So how can a vulture be considered a skunk predator? Simple: when skunks succumb to natural causes or an accident, nearby vultures descend for a quick meal. This happens most often when skunks fall victim to speeding cars, which is a very common fate for them.

Vultures are drawn by either smell or sight, depending on the species, and the stench of a skunk lets them know food is nearby.

Vultures don’t appear to have any food preferences, except for one: when vultures eat skunks, they tend to eat around the stink glands.

8. Dogs – But Often They Don’t Eat Them

Dogs are considered man’s best friend, and are a testament to the power of domestication. Even then, they are descended from predators. The laziest, most spoiled pup will still exhibit occasional predator behavior.

In fact, many breeds specifically have predator behavior bred into them, such as hounds and terriers. This is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed their dog zip after a squirrel or rabbit.

Some dogs display their predator behavior while playing with toys, such as shaking them or ripping them open and removing fluff. Other dogs will chase that feeling further, which can lead them to stinky trouble.

Remember that skunks have their markings and stench in order to protect them—predators are supposed to put two and two together to realize that those black and white critters smell awful. But dogs don’t always take the hint.

Even though they still have predator instincts, dogs don’t have all of them. That includes survival knowledge.

Some dogs will chase skunks, even if it’s just to bark at them. This is why it’s so common for dogs to fall victim to the spray of a skunk. But even when they catch a skunk, dogs don’t typically eat them unless they’re particularly adventurous.

If your dog has the habit of chasing skunks, you know how miserable it is to get the smell out. A deodorizing shampoo like De-Skunk Odor Destroying Shampoo can help break down the smell of skunks and leave your pooch happier.

That’s A Wrap!

It turns out that skunks’ smell truly helps them survive. Because of it, there are very few predators willing to eat skunks. To recap, here are the 8 animals brave enough to eat skunks:

  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Bobcats
  • Cougars
  • Badgers
  • Great Horned Owls
  • Vultures
  • Dogs

Skunks are usually able to remain unnoticed by most of these predators unless it’s a particularly lean time for carnivores. Even then, their multiple survival tactics help skunks avoid being eaten.

If skunks are pestering you, you could always turn to these scents that repel skunks. That’s right, these foul-smelling critters have picky noses! 

References

Fisher, K.A. & Stankowich, T. (2018). Antipredator strategies of striped skunks in response to cues of aerial and terrestrial predators. Animal behavior, 143, 25-34.

Hansen, L.A., Mathews, N.E., Vander Lee, B.A., & Lutz, R.S. (2004)Population characteristics, survival rates, and causes of mortality of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) on the southern high plains, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist, 49(1):54-60.

Lesmeister, D.B., Millspaugh, J.J., Gompper, M.E., Mong, T.W. (2010) Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) survival and cause-specific mortality in the Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas. The American Midland Naturalist, 164(1), 52-60

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