If you live in Will County, you've probably noticed that pungent smell at least a couple of times already: Skunk.
It's a sure sign of spring, and chances are very good that the skunk population will be higher in 2013 than it was in 2012.
Proof is anecdotal at this point -- "I would say we don't have a good comparison until it's warm," said Sarah Gimbel, of Joliet Township Animal Control -- but it's there.
"I was doing some checking around and it seems like, in general, the skunk population is increasing and it has been increasing for several years," said Bob Bryerton, facility coordinator for the Will County Forest Preserve District's Plum Creek Nature Center in Beecher.
Part of the reason is skunks have few natural predators.
"Coyotes and foxes will eat them, but (we're) not sure if they are actively hunting them or if they are eating them when they are already dead," Bryerton said. "Coyotes probably do eat them, but it’s hard to confirm whether they hunt them or not."
The only two known natural predators are the grey-horned owl and, to some degree, the red-tailed hawk, Bryerton said.
More than any other animal, though, skunks tend to meet their demise by automobile.
Although it may seem morbid, counting skunk carcasses are on the road is one way officials can tell if the population is growing.
"I actually am all the way east in the county and I have seen a few in the roads," Bryerton said.
Skunks begin coming out of their winter dormancy in February or March. They don’t truly hibernate, but tend to sleep a lot, on and off, throughout the winter, Bryerton said.
"This time of year, they will come out," Bryerton said. "Usually they are breeding in February and March. There is a lot more movement of skunks during that time of the year."
Gimbel said skunks won't spend a lot of time out where the public can see them until temperatures head into the 50s and 60s.
"People are outside more now, too," she said.