Skunks: Do They Actually Keep Snakes Away?

Very cute black and white baby skunks

It’s never fun finding a wild animal in the yard, but some are worse than others. Snakes, for example, are probably on everyone’s least favorite pest list.

Skunks, with their smelly disposition, might be on that list as well. But if you had to choose, most would pick a skunk over a snake! The interesting thing about skunks is that they can actually help keep snakes away from your yard.

If you have a skunk in the yard, chances are pretty good that they are actively repelling snakes from the yard whether they mean to or not! However, skunks should not be relied upon to completely eliminate snakes from your yard.

Key Takeaways:

  • The presence of a skunk in the yard may act as a deterrent to keep snakes away.
  • Skunks are immune to snake venom, making them a good candidate to fend off snakes who may be after the same food sources.
  • Skunks may not repel all snakes from the yard. Using snake-deterring methods in combination with skunks is the best way to repel snakes.

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Skunk Behavior And Its Effect On Snakes

Skunks get a bad reputation due to the pungent defense mechanism they use to scare off predators. This smelly liquid sometimes gets on a curious family dog or people, giving skunks a bad rep.

However, these animals are actually pretty docile, rarely spray unless threatened, and can help fend off snakes from the yard.

Skunks Are Most Active At Dawn And Dusk

It’s not impossible to see a skunk during the day, but you are much more likely to see these trundling mammals in the late evening, early morning, or at night. Many species of snakes are also active at this time, such as rattlesnakes and copperheads.

By the way, you can read about what it means to see a skunk during the day here. Hint – it’s usually no big deal!

Garter snakes, one of the most common snakes seen around the home, are normally more active during the day but will occasionally move around at night. When skunks and snakes occupy the same area and prefer to be active at the same time of the day, interactions may occur. Luckily for the skunk, they are usually the victor when facing off against a snake.

Speaking of garter snakes, check out our guide on the different ways to keep garter snakes away for good for some tips on keeping these reptiles away.

A Skunk’s Diet Changes With The Seasons

Skunks become pests when they invade our yards, dig in our gardens, and knock over our trash bins. But these mischievous animals aren’t wandering through our yards for no reason – they’re looking for food!

Skunks eat a variety of food items, which is one of the reasons their populations are so successful. As the seasons change, skunks will adjust their diet depending on what’s available:

SeasonCommon Food Items For Skunks
SpringInsects, small rodents, bird eggs
SummerBerries, fruits, small mammals
FallInsects, nuts, seeds, small reptiles
WinterCarrion, garbage, stored food, small mammals

A snake is more likely to be on the menu for a skunk in the fall when other food sources are becoming less available or in the winter when snakes may be found inactive beneath logs or rock piles.

Skunks Can Be Found Everywhere In The United States

Not many animals can boast a presence in every state of the continental US. White-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes, and striped skunks all share this title. Because skunks are so widespread, they are more likely to have interactions with a variety of snakes.

With so many different species of snake, they occupy an extremely large variety of habitats, including those occupied by skunks. From deserts and plains to suburbs and cities, skunks can be found pretty much anywhere below 6,000 feet elevation.

Even though snakes and skunks occupy much of the same territory, it doesn’t mean that they interact all the time. Skunks are solitary animals and prefer to avoid confrontation when possible.

Can Skunks Really Keep Snakes Away? 5 Things To Know

Young striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) near a human dwelling

If you’re hoping for a knight in shining (black and white) armor, you may be disappointed. Skunks aren’t a foolproof method to keep snakes away. However, they can act as a deterrent under the right circumstances.

Let’s check out some things you should know about skunks and snakes.

1. Skunks Eat Snakes

We mentioned before that skunks are omnivorous and eat a variety of food items. Snakes, especially small snakes, are definitely on the menu for skunks. While they’re not going to wrestle any of the anacondas in the Florida Everglades, they’ll certainly take down a small garter snake or even a troublesome rattlesnake.

Skunks are more likely to encounter snakes in the mornings and evenings when snakes are basking in the sun. At this point, snakes are slow-moving because they haven’t warmed up yet and can make easy targets for hungry skunks.

2. Skunks Are Immune To Snake Venom

Some animals develop unique characteristics to either evade predators or capture prey more efficiently. Skunks, opossums, mongoose, and hedgehogs have all developed some resistance, if not complete immunity, to snake venom.

An article from the Journal of Biological Reviews attributes this immunity to toxin-neutralizing serum proteins found in animals. As the name suggests, these proteins neutralize the toxins in snake venom, making them unable to bind to the molecules that would normally cause a reaction.

This special ability allows skunks to go after rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and many other venomous snakes without worrying about getting bit.

3. Skunks And Snakes Feed On The Same Food

When you think of snake food, you may be picturing a mouse or rat. The truth is that many smaller snake species feed on insects, just like skunks.

Grubs are a favorite food source for skunks. They’re also favored by garter snakes, ring-necked snakes, and sharp-tailed snakes. If a skunk and a snake are going for the same food source, skunks may harass the snake into leaving the area or even decide to eat the snake instead.

Skunks and snakes may also be in your yard because you have something that attracts them. For example, snakes are attracted to yards with tall grass, bird feeders (that attract rodents), and wood piles. Skunks are attracted to grubs, insects, and gardens.

4. Skunk Spray Can Repel Snakes

We’ve all sniffed the tell-tale scent of a visiting skunk in our yard. The musty, sulfuric, repulsive smell is enough to make you gag! But humans aren’t the only ones repelled by the smell.

Snakes have a special organ in their skulls that helps them ‘smell’ the chemicals in the air. Skunk spray has a high concentration of sulfur-containing chemicals that are overwhelming to the snake’s sense of smell. If a snake can smell this, they’re unlikely to enter your yard.

Skunks don’t have to spray to give off the smell, either. Their repeated presence in your yard can leave enough of their scent behind to make snakes think twice about slithering onto your property.

If you’re curious, you can read about why skunks are spraying in your yard here.

5. Snakes Are Vulnerable To Skunks In Winter

Both snakes and skunks slow down in the winter, but skunks are more active. Snakes go into a state called brumating where they seek out a hiding spot for the winter, such as under a log or in a cave.

Unlike hibernation, snakes that are brumating still have to drink water, so they must make trips to water sources on warm winter days. At this time, snakes are particularly vulnerable to predation by skunks because they are moving sluggishly.

If a snake is hiding beneath your porch or shed for the winter, a skunk may be able to take care of it in the winter when the snake sneaks out for a drink of water. Head over to our piece on the places snakes go during the winter for a closer look at where these reptiles go in the colder months.

The Pros And Cons Of Having Skunks Around To Repel Snakes

Two striped skunks near a home

If you have a serious rattlesnake problem in your yard, you may be jumping for joy to have a skunk in the yard. However, others might not share in the excitement of having a stinky skunk on their property.

So, what are some of the pros and cons of having a skunk in the yard? Let’s find out!

The Benefits Of Having Skunks In The Yard

There are some positives to having these well-known animals in your yard. It’s important to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks.

  • Pest control: In addition to occasionally dining on snakes, skunks eat mice, moles, voles, wasps, and many other pest species that can be found around the yard.
  • Soil aeration: Skunks may leave little cone-shaped holes in the yard from their digging. As their claws sift through the soil, they inadvertently aerate it, promoting nutrient cycling and better drainage. Of course, this comes with the caveat that your yard is a little torn up!
  • Mild-tempered: Skunks are mild-tempered animals. If confronted by a human, they will almost always flee unless suddenly startled.
  • Clean-up crew: Skunks will feed on decaying animals, which helps prevent the spread of bacteria from the maggots that infest the carcass.
  • Few predators: Not many animals are brave enough to tango with a skunk. This is good news for your yard, as skunks will not attract other animals.

All in all, it doesn’t seem too bad to have these mild-mannered critters in the yard. But let’s take a look at the drawbacks first!

Drawbacks Of Skunks In The Yard

It may seem like a no-brainer when choosing between having a skunk in the yard or a rattlesnake. However, keep in mind that there are some downsides to having skunks in the yard, despite their docile nature.

  • Garden thieves: If you have a thriving garden, skunks may sneak in and grab a bite. They especially like leafy greens.
  • Diggers: Skunks dig in the soil and peel back sod to get at the insects within. This can cause some disruptions to your lawn and create holes across the yard. Look for cone-shaped holes about 3-4 inches deep. You can read about how to fill a skunk hole here!
  • Denning sites: Skunks may build their dens beneath your porch or shed or even climb up into your attic if they can find an opening.
  • Smell: Let’s face it, skunks are smelly. The strong smell of their spray can waft for miles and stick around for days.
  • Danger to chickens and ducks: If given the opportunity, skunks may go after chickens or ducks, as well as their eggs.

Clearly, there are some downsides to having skunks in the yard. Be sure to take all things into consideration before attempting to control skunks or snakes.

Should I Attract Skunks To Keep Snakes Away?

close-up photo of striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in nature

If you want to keep snakes away in a more natural fashion, you may not want to resort to harsh chemicals. This is completely understandable!

So, are skunks your savior, or should you look elsewhere to protect your yard from snakes?

Skunks May Not Repel Snakes

Despite having an incredible sense of smell and hearing, skunks have very poor eyesight. If you stand further than ten feet away from a skunk, chances are it won’t even know you’re there!

For this reason, skunks may not even be aware there are snakes in your yard. They would most likely only spot them if the snake was moving or very close. So, even if you have a skunk in the yard, it might not repel snakes how you’d like.

Skunks Bring Their Own Problems

It’s never a good idea to feed a wild animal. Trying to attract a skunk to the yard is not the best approach to repelling snakes from the yard.

Whatever you use to attract a skunk will likely attract other animals like opossums, raccoons, or even coyotes. It’s much better to let nature do its thing. If a skunk happens to wander into your yard, that’s one thing, but luring a skunk tends to create more problems than not.

Not many animals are brave enough to prey on skunks, but predators do exist. A skunk in the yard can attract predators such as coyotes, bobcats, great horned owls, and foxes. For a full list of animals that prey on skunks, head over to our article on the predators that eat skunks.

Snakes Might Not Be All That Bad…

I know, I know. The thought of having a snake in your yard is probably enough to make you want to jump out of your skin. But hear me out. Not all snakes are bad to have around.

Rat snakes, for example, are pest control experts, mild-tempered, and non-venomous. Garter snakes are smaller but share many of the same characteristics.

If you find a snake in your yard, it may be best to simply let it be.

Other Practical Ways to Repel Snakes without Skunks

The grass snake (Natrix natrix), sometimes called the ringed snake or water snake in tall grass.

Snakes are beneficial to the environment and help keep the food chain in order, but that doesn’t mean we want them slithering around our yards.

Thankfully, there are ways to repel snakes that don’t involve having skunks in the yard.

Remove Sources Of Cover

Snakes are vulnerable to predation, especially from aerial predators like hawks and eagles. Our slithery friends use sources of cover on our property to hide from the watchful eyes of hungry predators. It’s important to eliminate areas that snakes use for protection to avoid attracting them to your yard.

Some of the places snakes like to hide out include:

  • Tall grass: Keep your grass mowed where possible and pull weeds, especially along fence rows.
  • Brush piles: Remove piles of leaves, twigs, bricks, and rotting lumber from the yard.
  • Wood piles: Firewood should be stacked neatly and elevated off the ground when possible.

Think of any place in your yard that is covered from above and try to eliminate those sources. If your yard doesn’t seem safe, snakes won’t use it. Our article on the reasons snakes aren’t leaving your yard can give you detailed insight into what snakes use as cover.

Reduce Food Sources

It’s impossible to eliminate all food sources in your yard. After all, many snakes eat insects, which are not possible to remove entirely. However, there are some things you can do to eliminate other food sources to make your yard less appealing to slippery snakes.

  • Bird seed: seeds are very attractive to mice, rats, and other small rodents. Use a catcher tray like AUXPhome Bird Seed Catcher Tray to catch seeds that would normally fall to the ground. Fewer rodents = fewer snakes!
  • Pet food: Like bird seed, pet food is also attractive to various rodents. If you feed stray cats, bring the food inside at night when rodents are more likely to be active and sneaking around looking for a meal.
  • Bird feeders: Small birds are another source of food for snakes. Consider using a baffle like Predator Guard Squirrel Baffle. This can be placed above hanging feeders and below pole feeders to keep snakes away from your birds.

Head over to our guide on the animals that snakes eat to get more details on what kind of animals will attract snakes to your yard.

Seal Gaps And Cracks Around Your Home

No one wants to think about finding a snake in their basement or garage, but it does happen! In the fall, snakes look for a cool, damp area to spend the winter. Cool and damp – sounds like a basement, right?

It’s important to seal any gaps and cracks around your home that are larger than 1/4 inch. Use a silicone caulk like Gorilla Waterproof Caulk & Seal. Take a detailed look at snake entry points in our article on the different ways that snakes entered your home.

Check these areas that are prone to cracks and openings:

  • Foundation
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Openings where electrical and plumbing enters/exits the home

You can read about what to do if you find a snake in your home here in case one of these slithery reptiles makes its way inside.

Build A Snake-Proof Fence

Snakes can be kept out of certain areas with fencing. The fence should be buried at least 6 inches deep and be 36 inches high. Seboss Hardware Cloth is an excellent choice, measuring 48″ x 100′ with 1/4-inch openings.

For the best results, bend the fence outward at a 30-degree angle. This will make it difficult for snakes to slither over the fence. Keep the fence clear of tall grass and weeds.

Fencing can also be used to block off areas beneath buildings that snakes might use to hibernate (brumate) over the winter. Use hardware cloth to seal off openings beneath sheds, under the porch, or anywhere else where snakes can sneak into.

Use Snake Repellents

Snake repellents are an effective way to repel snakes from certain areas. This may not be the best choice to repel snakes from your entire yard (unless you have a small yard), but it can definitely deter them from certain areas.

Some of the best snake repellents are:

  • Granules: granules are typically easy to use – simply shake the granules over areas you want to repel snakes from. Victor Snake-A-Way Outdoor Snake Repelling Granules can be used outdoor only, lasts for up to 3 months, and covers 1/2 acre.
  • Sprays: Sprays like Exterminators Choice – Snake Defense Spray can be used indoors and outdoors and is formulated with natural ingredients like cinnamon, clove, and peppermint oil.
  • Pouches & Balls: Snake-repellent pouches and balls are another repellent option. YJOO’s Snake Away Repellent Balls can be placed throughout the yard and in basements and garages. One ball lasts 3-6 months and covers 120 square feet.
  • Scent deterrents: There aren’t a whole lot of smells out there that will deter snakes. However, cinnamon and clove oil seem to be two very effective scents that repel these reptiles.

Our article on the places snakes may be hiding in your home can help you target your repellent in specific, snake-prone areas.

Contact A Professional

If the above options don’t seem to be getting rid of your snake problem, and skunks aren’t helping, consider reaching out to a pest control specialist.

Pest professionals can figure out what is attracting snakes to your yard and home, and provide attainable ways to keep them away using repellents that may not be available to the public. This is your best bet if you want to deter snakes permanently or get rid of an existing infestation.

Check out our nationwide pest control finder to get connected with a local professional in your area.

That’s A Wrap!

Snakes and skunks often occupy the same territory and may even go after the same types of foods. For this reason, these two critters may interact in your yard and around your home.

Skunks are immune to snake venom and will make a meal of snakes if the opportunity arises. However, skunks are unlikely to completely control snakes or eliminate them from your yard. These docile animals are more likely to feed on grasshoppers and grubs than a snake.

If you have a skunk in the yard and really dislike snakes, it may be worth it to let the skunk hang out. Combine the power of your skunk friend with other snake-deterrent methods mentioned above, and your yard will be snake-free in no time!

References

Engeman, R. M., Shiels, A. B., & Clark, C. S. (2018). Objectives and integrated approaches for the control of brown tree snakes: an updated overview. Journal of Environmental Management219, 115-124.

Kardong, K. V., & Smith, T. L. (2002). Proximate factors involved in rattlesnake predatory behavior: a review. Biology of the Vipers67(2), 253.

Voss, R. S., & Jansa, S. A. (2012). Snake-venom resistance as a mammalian trophic adaptation: lessons from didelphid marsupials. Biological Reviews87(4), 822–837.

Sprayberry, T. R., & Edelman, A. J. (2016). Food Provisioning of Kits by a Female Eastern Spotted Skunk. Southeastern Naturalist15(4), N53–N56.

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