CHICAGO — It's the stinkiest time of the year for Chicago's skunks.
And they are creeping closer to Downtown, too.
This month is mating season for skunks, which means the usually solitary mammals will be on the move more looking for a partner.
"We might be smelling them more often because they're moving around and encountering more risks than they normally would," said Liza Lehrer, assistant director of Lincoln Park's Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.
Lehrer said spraying is a skunk's last mode of defense. They'd rather stomp their feet and raise their bodies at potential threats.
"Skunks are not typically aggressive animals," Lehrer said. "I try to remind people — animals are more afraid of us than we are of them. If you see a skunk, slowly back away and give them a wide area."
Lehrer said skunks have been found recently in Old Town, according to findings from the camera trap program created by the Urban Wildlife Institute in 2010.
Since the start of 2016 skunks have been photographed in Albany Park, Avondale, Lawndale, Lincoln Park, Little Village and Uptown, much closer to the city's center than ever before.
Skunks previously had not been photographed by the camera traps, except on the Northwest Side in neighborhoods like Edison Park, Jefferson Park and Forest Glen.
"They're popping up at more urban sites than we've seen them before," Lehrer said. "That's one of the really powerful aspects of this long-term research. It's amazing to see these animals take advantage of these urban areas."
People can help identify the animals photographed by the camera traps as part of the Chicago Wildlife Watch program.
The Field Museum's new collection manager of mammals, Adam Ferguson, said skunks can be found living in a variety of areas in Chicago. Those areas include woodlands, agricultural areas and urban environments, especially cemeteries and golf courses, where they often forage for insect larvae that live below ground.
"They can dig their own dens, but often take advantage of burrows abandoned by other animals such as woodchucks, or below buildings if they are around," Ferguson said.
Skunks have few natural predators because of the foul-smelling oily liquid they spray from their backsides. Lehrer said only domestic dogs haven't figured out they should avoid the striped mammals.
Skunks live about three years, and have their babies in late spring/early summer.