Striped Skunk

Skunk

Photo by: Miles Away Photography

Species: Striped skunk

Scientific name:Mephitis mephitis

Status: Common

Description: The striped skunk is a cat-sized mammal covered in black fur with a white stripe from head to tail (what I like to call the “landing strip)”. Skunks have narrow faces, with a white stripe that runs from the snout to above their eyes. The white markings on skunks can be very different from individual to individual, but generally you will find they are black bodies with a white stripe. Skunks have musk glands on either side of their anus which excretes a foul smelling bright yellow liquid (“spray”) that they use as a defense mechanism when threatened. Skunks are nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night.

Habitat: Skunks prefer woodlands, open areas, grasslands and valleys. This species is also a regular inhabitant of farmsteads and cities. Skunks live in abandoned dens of other mammals, including groundhogs and foxes. They will also live in rock piles, stumps, or even under houses or porches.

Breeding: Skunks breed in late February-March when they emerge from their winter dens. Female skunks have a litter of 2-10 in early-mid spring (April-May). Musk glands of baby skunks aren’t functional until 5-6 weeks after birth. The mom and babies will stay together through the autumn, and often den together in winter. Skunks will go into winter dens once the temperature reaches 0oC.  Skunks go into winter torpor, a time of inactivity, and will wake from this stage in late February-March.

Diet: Skunks are omnivours and eat a wide variety of food. Their diet consists of insects, mice, eggs, plants, and even squirrels. Skunks diets change based on the season. During the autumn and winter, they will eat equal amounts of plant and animal foods. In the summer, skunks will mainly feast on insects, including bees, which they eat as they emerge from their hives.

Threats to species: Skunks are a common carrier of rabies, including the skunk rabies virus and raccoon rabies virus. Additionally, due to their nocturnal nature, skunks are a common victim to collisions with cars.

Threat to humans: Rabies is a big concern, especially to humans with pets. Additionally, getting sprayed by a skunk is very undesirable.

Fun facts: When skunks are angry they will growl and hiss, then stomp their feet rapidly on the ground, they may also walk on their front feet with their tail high in the air. If these threats don’t work, they make a “U shape” where their head and tail are facing the same direction. Skunks can spray up to 6m away and the foul odour can be carried up to 1km on the wind. When a skunk sprays, it can direct their spray in a specific direction from their spray glands up to 3m accurately.

A “fully loaded” skunk can produce approximately 30ml of spray.

The only natural predator of skunks is the great horned owl. These owls can’t smell, so the skunks’ defense does not work on them.

 Sources:

Hinterland Who’s Who- http://www.hww.ca/en/species/mammals/striped-skunk.html

Eder, Tamara, and Kennedy, Gregory. 2011. Mammals of Canada. Lorne Pine Publishing. Edmonton, Alberta.

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