2 minute read

Badgers Weasels Skunks and Otters: Mustelidae

Striped Skunk (mephitis Mephitis): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Striped skunks have silky black fur. A white stripe starts on top of the head, and separates into two stripes down the sides of the back. Anal glands produce strong-smelling musk that protects against intruders. Sharp forefeet claws are designed for digging. The body is 13 to 18 inches (33 to 45 centimeters) long, and the tail measures 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 centimeters). They weigh about 4 to 18 pounds (2 to 8 kilograms).

Geographic range: Striped skunks live in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Habitat: Striped skunks prefer a mixture of farmland, forest, and grassland, where they den in barns, under wood piles and in underground burrows. They adapt to desert conditions, sleeping in cool

A young striped skunk forages for insects. Rodents and insects make up most of a skunk's diet. (Erwin and Peggy Bauer/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

dens during the day and foraging at night when their prey are active. They also thrive in the tundra, especially in marshes during the summer thaw. Skunks also live in suburban areas.

Diet: Striped skunks are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever food is available. Their main diet consists of small rodents and insects. They also consume reptiles, frogs, worms, birds, bird eggs, fruits, and seeds.

Behavior and reproduction: Striped skunks are active at night. They dig underground dens, use a hollowed tree stump, or share a home with rabbits and raccoons. During severe winters, they become inactive for several months, living off stored fat in their body. They do not truly hibernate, moving about when the weather warms up. Males are typically solitary but several females may den together. Mating occurs in February and March, with the males having several partners. Litters of four to ten young are born in May and are raised by the females. The young stay with the mother for up to two years.

When threatened, striped skunks give warning by stamping their front feet and growling. If the intruder does not leave, skunks raise their tails and spray a foul-smelling musk. The spray can travel up to 10 feet (3 meters), causing nausea and burning the eyes and nose.

Striped skunks and people: Skunk musk, with its odor removed, is an important perfume ingredient that enables perfume to evaporate slowly and emit fragrance longer. Striped skunks kill rodents and insects that destroy crops but they sometimes assault chickens and damage beehives. In North America, they are carriers of rabies, an often deadly disease affecting the central nervous system and transmitted through the skunk's saliva.

Conservation status: Striped skunks are not threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsBadgers Weasels Skunks and Otters: Mustelidae - Behavior And Reproduction, Mustelids And People, Ermine (mustela Erminea;): Species Accounts, Striped Skunk (mephitis Mephitis): Species Accounts - PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET,