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Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

Striped Skunk

Physical Characteristics

The striped skunk has a black body with a white stripe along each side of its body.; the two stripes join into a broader white area at the nape. Its forehead has a narrow white stripe. Similar in size to a domestic cat, this species is the heaviest species of skunk, though it is not as long (in body or tail length) as the American hog-nosed skunk. They have relatively short, well-muscled legs, and long front claws for digging. Adult specimens can weigh variously from 2.5 to 15 lbs (1.1 to 6.8 kg), although the average weight is 6-8 lb (2.7-3.6 kg). This species’ head-and-body length (excluding the tail) is 13 to 18 in (33 to 46 cm). Males tend to be around .10% larger than females. The bushy tail is 7 to 10 in (18 to 25 cm), and sometimes has a white tip. The presence of a striped skunk is often first made apparent by its odor. It has well-developed anal scent glands (characteristic of all skunks) that can emit a highly unpleasant odor when the skunk feels threatened.


Skunks can be found in a number of habitats, including woodlands, grasslands and agricultural lands.


The striped skunk is omnivorous and has a varied diet. Its diet consists mostly of insects and insect larvae such as beetles, grasshoppers and crickets. It also eats earthworms, snails, crayfish, wasps and ants. It preys on vertebrates like frogs and small mammals including voles, mice, moles, rats and squirrels. It also eats bird eggs. Plant matter the skunk eats include blackberries, raspberries, grains, corn, and nuts. Skunks eat mostly insects and mammals during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter, more plant matter is consumed. In settled areas, skunks also seek human garbage. Less often, skunks may be found acting as scavengers, eating bird and rodent carcasses left by cats or other animals. Pet owners, particularly those of cats, may experience a skunk finding its way into a garage or basement where pet food is kept. Skunks commonly dig holes in lawns in search of grubs and worms.

Skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect  them from stings. The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate. Mother skunks are known to teach this behavior to their young.


The skunk is crepuscular. Beginning its search for food at dawn and dusk. At sunrise, it retires to its den, which may be in a ground burrow, or beneath a building, boulder, or rock pile.  While the male dens itself, several females may live together. Males and females occupy overlapping home ranges through the greater part of the year, typically 0.77 to 1.5 sq mi (2 to 4 km) for females and up to 7.7 sq mi (20 km) for males. The striped skunk does  not hibernate but instead goes into a dormant or semi-active state. Outside the breeding season, males are solitary and try to build fat reserves while females defend their maternity dens.

Although they have excellent senses of smell and hearing, they have poor vision, being unable to see objects more than about 10 ft (3 m) away, making them vulnerable to death by road traffic. They are short-lived; their lifespan in the wild is no more than 3 years, with most living only up to a year.

striped skunk track - left front foot


Breeding in the skunk mostly occurs from mid-February to mid-April. A skunk breeds only once a year. Male skunks are polygamous and will mate with several females in succession. When encountering an estrous female, a male will approach her from the rear and then smell and lick the vulva area. The male then grasps the female by the nape and then mounts and copulates with her. Once a female is impregnated she doesn’t allow any more copulations and will fight off any male that tries to mount her. However, females that lose their litters may lead to a later mating. The young are born in May or early June. Skunks tend to have litters of 4 to 8 with 2 and 10 being extremes. The young are born blind, deaf and hairless but have their striping pattern. By 8 days, the young’s musk odor can be emitted. By 22 days, the young’s eyes open. The young are weaned about 2 months after birth, but generally stay with their mother until they are ready to mate, at about one year of age.

The mother is protective of her young, spraying at any sign of danger. The male plays no part in raising the young.


Most predators of the Americas, such as wolves, foxes and badgers, seldom attack skunks, presumably out of fear of being sprayed. The exceptions are dogs, reckless predators whose attacks fail once they are sprayed, and the great horned owl, the animal’s only serious predator, which has a poor to non-existent sense of smell.


Striped Skunk, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Skunk, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia