In the dark of night, a hungry skunk searches for beetles, berries, eggs or whatever he can find to fill his empty belly. One thing skunks are very good at eating is baby yellow jackets!
Wait, what??
Yes, the larva of yellow jackets, our colonial wasp that often makes its home underground, is a buffet for a hungry skunk. In late summer and early fall these colonies are at their largest. The nest is made up of a paper covering with combs that house the young wasps. Each cell contains a morsel packed with protein. 
Before a skunk comes along, there is not much to see. All the action is taking place underground. A small hole with wasps coming to and fro are our only clues as to what it happening.
These are some yellow jackets going about their daily business. Adults forage for nectar and protein sources  for the young. This time of year, food can be scarce causing the yellow jackets to forage at picnics and trash sources. The goal is the same sugar and protein for the larva. I’ve seen them go after soft bodied insects and lunch meat – whatever is available.
So, when Mister Skunk comes along, he uses his sharp claws to dig up the nest. Here are the results from a nest down the road.
The hole the skunk made was bigger around than my arm. Comb was strewn about.

Here is a closer look at a hunk of comb. This is where the larva would have been.

The cool part for me was seeing remnants of the paper still inside the hole. You may find this very similar to the Bald Face Hornets’ nests that hang from trees. Same concept as the yellow jackets, who by the way can also have their nests above ground.
While yellow jackets have an important role in nature, they can be unwanted close to home. Thanks to our friend the Skunk, he will take care of them for you for free!

2 Comments on “Skunked!

  1. Great question, Scott! I will quote from two sources to give you a better idea of what may be happening. Also, I believe that the Skunk has the upper hand because his prey is diurnal (active during the day) and he is foraging at night. Most of the stings would be focused around the face where his fur is thinnest. As you will read below, the skunk seems to have a good handle on how to kill the insects. However, as seen in the last quote not all skunks should be eating these kinds of prey!

    “Bees, wasps, and their hives, together with larvae and honey, are also eaten.” “Skunks strike the bees with their front feet. Apparently they do not mind the stinging, as individuals trapped at hives showed many stings on their bodies and in the mouth and throat.” The Wild Mammals of Missouri Revised Edition; Charles W. Schwartz and Elizabeth R. Schwartz; 1981

    “Skunks also dig up yellow jacket or other ground hornet nests, as well as attack honeybee hives, eating the larvae, honey, and adults. Sometimes they scratch at hives to draw out the adults, which swarm the skunk. They beat them down with their forepaws and eat them. One skunk killed by bees had 65 bee stings inside its mouth and on its tongue, and a stomach full of bees.” Behavior of North American Mammals; Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart; 2011

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