Here's What to Do If You See a Skunk Trapped in a Yogurt Cup

Sep 2, 2019

Sometimes it can be interesting to read food containers.

The Masked Biologist saw a sentence on a yogurt cup that inspired this week’s Wildlife Matters.

I eat yogurt almost every day, but I rarely read the labels, frankly. Recently I noticed (much to my amusement) that on the cups used by my favorite brand of yogurt is printed the phrase *CRUSH CUPS TO PROTECT WILDLIFE*. This particular brand of yogurt uses a recycled and recyclable plastic cup that is wider on the bottom than it is on the top, which makes it stack very well probably for shipment. I can also tell you that shape is just the right size for the head of a skunk to fit inside. Of course, it is easier to get the head in than out, so you end up with a clumsy skunk that cannot see where it is going.

Credit The Masked Biologist

Skunks are largely insect eaters, but they are also opportunistic scavengers. All the ingredients that make me like yogurt, like sweeteners and chunks of fruit, are too much for a skunk to resist. Plus, it is really hard to get the last of the yogurt out of the bottom of the cup so it is too great a temptation for a skunk to resist.

If you see a skunk with its head trapped in a yogurt cup, you have a few options. I have seen them all work pretty well, so it is a matter of personal preference. First, skunks are unprotected, so if you are one of those people who likes to solve their problems with a .22, you can probably stop listening now, except I would warn you there is a chance that if you dispatch it wrong, the skunk will spray. If you want to release the skunk alive, naturally, there is a risk the skunk will spray as well, so you need to have a plan.

The simplest answer might be to call a wildlife rehabilitator first. They may tell you what to do over the phone, or they may be able to send someone over. If you want to try to catch the skunk yourself, I can tell you that they usually don’t spray what they can’t see unless they feel threatened. I saw a great video on Facebook the other day where two urban police officers skillfully handled this very issue. They threw an old blanket over the skunk, watched the lump in the blanket to see where the head was. Then they grabbed the yogurt cup and the blanket and popped the cup off the skunk. The skunk, now able to see, crawled out from under the blanket and went away without spraying. You see, skunks need to raise their tail before they can spray. The muscles involved rely on raising the tail. So, if you catch a skunk under a heavy blanket, or in a trap or a low box they can’t lift their tail and they can’t spray.

Video above: Skunk's head stuck in Yoplait container from Wildlife Emergency Services on Vimeo.

I also learned some time ago that you can pick up a skunk by the tail and they can’t spray you. Years ago, a colleague saw a skunk, head in a yogurt cup. A grizzled old trapper had told him that if you pick up a skunk by the tail, they can’t spray you. So he walked up to the skunk, grasping it swiftly and firmly at the very base of the tail and picking it up in one smooth motion. The skunk didn’t spray. He took the skunk out of town, removed the cup, set the skunk down and it left hastily without spraying! Of course, my standard warning here applies. Skunks are well-documented vectors of rabies and other diseases, so wear gloves and eye protection, and I suggest a bandana or other protection for your nose and mouth.

Finally, a quick note that if we all could rinse our semi-conical yogurt cups, crush them flat and ensure they go into a recycle bin, we can help avoid these circumstances that are unpleasant for us and skunks alike.

Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the masked biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.