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Suburban Skunks are on the Rise

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is basically enveloped in a cloud of stink

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All across America skunks are embracing the world of picket fences and carbon-copy houses. From the suburbs to the cities skunks seem to be everywhere, Outside magazine reports. They're on the rise in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, they've been spotted along the Jersey Shore, and they're even infiltrating Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.  

Molecular biologist Christopher Kemp has striped skunks living beneath his shed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city where skunk stink abounds in "a thick, immovable cloud." He explains the problem in Outside

Many of my neighbors have begun talking about a plan to organize against the skunks...[W]e set up an e-mail address for residents to report skunk sightings. The messages arrive slowly at first, then in a flood: skunks in yards every night, skunks spraying dogs, skunks sitting proudly atop trash cans.

The smelly critters are not exactly seeking out suburban life. Rather, the skunks are just being good sports about increasing human sprawl, says Kemp:  

We are colliding with them, and they are colliding with us. “We’re spreading out more,” says Jerry Dragoo, a biologist at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, who has spent his career researching skunks. “I get a lot of calls from rural areas, but I get them from the middle of towns as well. Concrete. Pavement. We have encroached on a lot of their habitat, but they’re very adaptable.

More run-ins with people isn't great news for skunks, but suburban expansion isn't all bad for them, either. Like suburbanites, says Kemp, skunks love a house with a good vegetable garden. City skunks in particular might even be developing a more refined approach to food: In January, the New York Post reported anecdotes of increased skunk activity in Central Park, where the skunks were spotted most often hanging out outside a bakery. If Pixar is looking for inspiration for a Ratatoullie sequel, this just might be it. 

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About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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