The striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis, is the most common of four skunk
species found in North America. It is characterized by a black body with
a narrow white stripe on the forehead and wider stripes that extend from
the neck along each side of the back. Some white may also be present on
the top of the black bushy tail. The body size is comparable to a house
cat, with most adult skunks measuring about 24 inches long and weighing
about 4 to 8 pounds. Skunks have sharp claws on the front feet used for
digging insects and worms. There footprint and moving pattern
distinguishes them from other similar-sized animals.
Skunks are members of the weasel family ( At one time biologists
classified skunks in the weasel family, but more recent genetic
investigations have led taxonomists to group all North American skunks
and Asian stink badgers into their own separate family. There are five
different species of North American skunk in three genera: spotted
skunks (Spilogale), hognose skunks (Conepatus), and striped and hooded
skunks (Methitis). The five species are (1) Striped Skunk, (2) Eastern
Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius), (3) Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale
gracilis), (4) Hognose Skunk (Conepatus leucontus, also called Rooter
Skunk), and (5) Hooded Skunk (Mephitis macroura) ), all of which possess
scent glands near the anus. However, the skunk has the most advanced
scent gland development. The glands contain approximately 15 cc of a
yellowish, oily liquid. This fluid is a sulfur compound, n-butyl
mercaptan. A skunk can discharge a spray of this fluid as far as 15 feet
and spray up to six times in succession. It takes up to 10 days to
replenish the supply of liquid after full discharge.
Skunks are nocturnal animals, active and feeding during night hours.
Their behavior is slow and deliberate, and they appear confident in
defending themselves against other animals. Before a skunk discharges
its scent glands, it will usually give a warning by stamping its feet
rapidly, raising its tail straight up, clicking its teeth, and growling
or hissing. A skunk generally sprays only as a last resort, preferring
to retreat from danger.
Skunks eat many harmful insects and rodents but also prey on eggs and
young of waterfowl and other ground- nesting birds.
Several skunks, generally one mature male and several (up to 12)
females, gather at and cohabitate a winter den site from fall until
spring. The same winter den is generally used year after year if not
disturbed. In rural areas, den sites are frequently found under old farm
buildings, sheds, porches and other structures. Skunks do not hibernate
but generally remain inactive during winter, surviving on their fat
stores. However, they may leave the winter den for short periods during
Skunks mate during February and March. One male may breed several
females. After mating, female skunks disperse from the winter den to a
separate maternal den. Grass is usually gathered and brought into the
maternal den for bedding. Generally, 4 - 7 young are born in May or
June, about nine weeks after mating. The young are blind and deaf at
birth with short, fine fur. Adult male skunks do not take part in
rearing offspring. The young are nursed in the den for about six weeks
before joining their mother on trips outside the den. By this time they
are miniature replicas of adults. The young are weaned by about two
months of age. The family group breaks up in the fall, and the young
move to new territory. They generally travel about three to six miles in
search of a new home; however, extremes of up to 30 miles have been
Distribution - The skunk prefers the desert, woodlands, grassy plains
and suburbs. It occurs throughout the interior and southern tier of
Canadian provinces and all of United States of America.
The Striped Skunk is one of the main carriers of
rabies in the U.S.A.
Tracks - The skunk leaves a distinct pattern which is easily identified.
The smaller front feet are pigeon-toed and placed just ahead of the
larger rear feet while in motion. This five-toed creature has long claws
which are usually evident in the print.
Straddle: 7 - 10 cm (2.8 - 4 in)
Stride: 10 - 20 cm (4 - 8 in)
Track: Front - 3.5 cm (1.4 in) long / 3 cm (1.2 in) wide
Track: Rear - 5 cm (2 in) long / 3.5 cm (1.4 wide)