Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family:    Mustelidae
Size:    Length: 13 to 26 inches (33 to 66 cm)
Weight: 3 to 11 pounds (1.3 to 5 kg)
Diet: Insects, eggs, berries, frogs and small mammals such as mice
Distribution: North America
Young:  1 to 10 kittens, once per year
Animal Predators:  Great horned owls, cougars, wolves, lynxes, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, fishers, foxes and birds of prey
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Kitten
Lifespan: 6 to 13 years



·        Skunks never spray each other, even when fighting. 

·        They do not hibernate, but become temporarily dormant in the winter.

·        Striped skunks are the number one carrier of rabies in North America among wildlife.

·        Most carnivores avoid skunks, unless desperate for food.                



Skunks are approximately the same size as a domestic cat. They have black fur, with two white stripes starting on the back of their head and going down their back, merging at the base of the tail. They also have a white stripe down the middle of the long snout. The width of the white stripes varies with each individual. Their eyes are small and dark, and they have short legs and a fluffy tail. Striped skunks have five partially webbed toes on each foot. They have long claws on their forefeet, which aid in digging burrows. 



Skunks are widespread throughout Canada, northern Mexico and the United States, with the exception of Alaska. They live in dens created from hollow trees, rock cavities or burrows abandoned by other animals. Skunks can be found in the desert, forests, plains, agricultural fields and suburbs. Skunks living in the north sometimes hibernate during winter and eat excessively in the autumn to store fat. They stay underground for several weeks or months, but are not necessarily asleep the entire time.  


Feeding Habits

Skunks are omnivores that eat a large variety of both animal and plant matter, including insects, eggs, berries, frogs and small mammals. They are beneficial to humans mainly because of their predation on rodents. 



Mating occurs between February and March, with up to 10 kittens (the average is four or five) born in May or early June. Although their eyes are closed at birth, they open within three weeks and are weaned by ten weeks. By the time they are three to four weeks old, the kittens can spray. They stay with their mother throughout the summer, following her in single file as they learn how to forage for food. Some of the litter may leave her side in autumn, while others may stay throughout the winter, denning with their mother and several other skunk families until spring. 



Skunks are sociable and will share their dens with several other skunks and sometimes even raccoons during the day while they sleep. Unlike many other animals, skunks have profited by human settlement, because they like open spaces with sporadic pockets of cover. When threatened, a skunk will turn around into a U-shape, so that its rump and head face the attacker, and it will spray a vapour from its anal musk glands. The skunk gives plenty of warning first, however—it will first arch its back, lift its tail, and may even stamp its feet. Because a skunk is not immune from its own spray, it will try to avoid spraying if it means it will be soiled itself. The spray only travels up to 10 feet (3 metres), but the odour can often be detected up to 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometres) away. The skunk aims its spray at the victim’s eyes in order to temporarily blind it and stop its breathing for a few seconds while the skunk escapes. The spray contains butylmercaptan, which will poison the nervous system, causing death, if taken internally. Externally, the spray will only temporarily nauseate and irritate. However, the skunk’s chief predator, the great horned owl, is immune to the skunk’s spray. 



Striped skunks are not a conservation concern.



Striped Skunk Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US