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Raccoons certainly show a strong resemblance to skunks from afar, but how similar are they in actuality?

With their dark grey coats and shadowed eyes, you may even mistake a raccoon for a skunk from a distance!

But, there are some very stark differences between raccoons and skunks.

In this article, we’ll explore some common questions about how raccoons and skunks differ.

How to tell raccoons and skunks apart?

Raccoons vs. Skunks: What’s the difference?

Let’s dive in!

How to tell raccoons and skunks apart

If it’s dark outside, raccoons and skunks can appear to be very similar.

Luckily for you, skunks have a few defining marks that allow you to differentiate between the two creatures.

  • Look for the stripes.

Skunks have bold, white stripes running along their back and tail. Raccoons do not!

If you see a flash of white, you can be sure that you’ve spotted a skunk.

  • Does the animal waddle or run?

Watching the animal’s movements is another easy way to tell the difference between a raccoon and a skunk.

Skunks tend to move slower. 

Their gait is much closer to a waddle than a walk.

However, raccoons tend to move quickly if they are not scared.

Raccoons also exhibit a steadier, streamlined gait. 

They may bounce up and down as they move, but there is very little side to side motion in their walk.

  • How large is the animal?

While raccoons and skunks can come in many shapes and sizes, raccoons tend to be larger in general.

If you see a smaller animal, this might be an indication that it is a skunk.

But, you might also simply be seeing a small raccoon, too.

  • Look at the tracks.

Both raccoons and skunks have five toes, but their tracks are slightly different.

Raccoons have five toes on both their front and back feet.

For the most part, raccoons’ front feet resemble human hands, and their feet look like small human feet.

Raccoons have claws, but they are usually short. You may notice small claw marks in their footprints.

Skunks, on the other hand, have longer claws on their front feet that they use for digging.

Their front and back feet are roughly the same size, but you will notice substantially larger claws on front feet.

Skunk prints look very similar to cat prints. However, skunk prints are more spread out than cat prints.

  • What do you smell?

There is a huge difference between the smells left behind by skunks and raccoons.

If you smell something that immediately makes you want to run away, it’s probably a skunk.

The smell of a skunk is so horrid that it may even make you cough and gag!

And, the smell of skunk spray permeates everything around it.

Once a skunk sprays around your house, you might want to consider taking a day trip.

No matter how much deodorizing spray you use, you will most likely still smell the skunk.

Raccoons, on the other hand, are not nearly as smelly.

While they may mark their territory and leave behind smelly feces, they generally do not smell any worse than a tom cat.

Their smells will likely disappear relatively quickly and will not be nearly as terrible.

Do raccoons spray like skunks?

While raccoons and skunks have many similar qualities, there is one major difference: skunks spray, but racoons do not spray.

Thank goodness we only have one creature in North America that sprays a smelly fluid when it gets scared!

Why do skunks spray?

Skunks spray as a means of defense and protection. If a skunk is scared, it will lift its tail and move into position.

If you see a skunk make this move, get out of the area as fast as you can!

This means that a skunk is poised to spray, and you do not want to be hit.

Skunks spray fluid from a gland located on the inside of their anus, and the smell is terrible.

If you’ve never smelled a skunk, count yourself lucky.

The smell is so acrid that most predators are immediately scared away, and the skunk is safe to move along.

While raccoons do not spray like skunks, they do mark their territory. Like most animals, raccoons feel the need to mark their space.

This is most common for males. You may see a raccoon rub its behind against a surface, pee, or poop in an area to claim it.

All of these actions leave a strong smell that signals to other raccoons that the area is claimed.

But, none of these smells compare to the level of the scent left by a scared skunk.

A competing raccoon may be afraid of such smells, but humans will probably not even notice that a raccoon has left his mark.

If you do smell the signs of raccoons near your home, the scent will probably disappear in a day or so, and you will be able to go about life as normal.

You will definitely know if you smell a skunk!

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