Striped Skunk

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Striped Skunk
Mephitis mephitis
    Class: Mammalia
    Order: Carnivora
    Group name:Surfeit

The name of the skunk is a corruption of an Abenaki name for them, segongw or segonku, which means "one who squirts" in the Algonquian language, of Native North American people. Mephitidae & Mephitis mean "stench".

The striped skunk is a medium-sized mammal, about the size of a house cat, that has a glossy black coat with a thin white stripe between its eyes and two stripes down its back and tail. The head & body is 19-30 inches, and the tail is from 5-15 inches. Skunks weigh 3 to 14 pounds. They have a moderately elongated body with relatively short, stocky, well-muscled legs, and proportionately large feet equipped with well-developed claws that enable it to be very adept at digging. Although they have excellent senses of smell and hearing they have poor vision and cannot see with any clarity all objects more than about 10 feet away, making them vulnerable to death by road traffic.

The Striped Skunk can be found throughout Minnesota. Skunks inhabit farm land and semi-wooded areas, clearings, pastures, and open lands bordering forests. On prairies, skunks seek cover in the thickets and timber fringes along streams. They usually avoid heavily forested areas.


Skunks eat both plant and animal material their diet changes with the seasons and usually out after dark. They eat insects and larvae, grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets. They also commonly eat earthworms, small rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles, berries, roots, leaves, grasses, apples, grapes, fish, fungi, nuts, carrion, eggs of roosting chickens & ground-nesting birds, mice and rats. Cottontail rabbits, and other small mammals are taken when other food is scarce.

In settled areas, skunks also seek out garbage cans. 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 to their young.

When they feed on corn, they eat only the lower ears. If the cornstalk is knocked over, however, raccoons are more likely the cause of damage. Damage to the upper ears of corn is indicative of birds, deer, or squirrels. Skunks dig holes in lawns, golf courses, and gardens to search for insect grubs found in the soil. Digging normally appears as small, 3- to 4-inch cone-shaped holes or patches of upturned earth.

Skunks occasionally kill poultry and eat eggs. They normally do not climb fences to get to poultry. By contrast, rats, weasels, mink, and raccoons regularly climb fences. If skunks gain access, they will normally feed on the eggs and occasionally kill one or two fowl. Eggs usually are opened on one end with the edges crushed inward. Weasels, mink, dogs and raccoons usually kill several chickens or ducks at a time. Dogs will often severely mutilate poultry. Tracks may be used to identify the animal causing damage. Both the hind and forefeet of skunks have five toes. In some cases, the fifth toe may not be obvious. Claw marks are usually visible, but the heels of the forefeet normally are not. The hindfeet tracks are approximately 2 1/2 inches long. Skunk droppings can often be identified by the undigested insect parts they contain. Droppings are 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter and 1 to 2 inches long.

Habitat & Behvaior

Both genders occupy overlapping home ranges, normally l/2 to 2 miles in diameter for females and up to 7 miles for males. They establish dens in hollow logs or may climb trees and use hollow limbs. Skunks will dig their own burrows with their powerful front claws or use abandoned dens of other animals, hollow logs, wood or rock piles, under buildings, stone walls, hay or brush piles and trees or stumps, even abandoned buildings. In Minnesota and colder climets striped skunks prefer wintering in burrows or other underground burrow type dens, they sometimes gather in communal dens for warmth, in a huddle of multiple, as many as twelve, females. Males often den alone. The same winter den is often repeatedly used. Skunks are not true hibernators, though they go through a dormant stage.

Skunks are intelligent and usually good natured and non-aggressive. Despite their gentle manner, skunks can be deadly simply because they are often carriers of rabies. In fact, rabies is more common in striped skunks than in any other Minnesota mammal. If an adult skunk seen in the daytime is showing abnormal behaviors such as paralysis, unprovoked aggression, moving in circles, and or self-mutilation, it should not be approached as rabbies is quite apparent. Females may forge in the day light hours, but skunks are generally only seen at night. Skunks are not generally sociable. They are nocturnal in habit, rather slow-moving and deliberate, and have great confidence in defending themselves.

Skunks have few predators. Most animals learn to recognize the skunk's warning stripes and avoid its stinky spray by giving skunks a wide berth unless other food is scarce. Some skunks are killed by owls and other birds of prey, which have poor to nonexistent sense of smell, mainly the Great horned owl. It is unknown how many skunks are in Minnesota. The skunk population appears to rise and fall from year to year, depending on weather conditions, disease, and how much food is available. They are short-lived animals generally no longer than three years, with potential of ten.

The most notorious feature of skunks is their anal scent glands, which they can use as a defensive weapon. Skunk spray causes no permanent harm to its victims. Skunks have two glands, one on each side of the anus. These glands produce a mixture of sulfur containing chemicals such as methyl, butyl thiols and sulfuric acid. Which can be fired from either one of two independently targetable anal glands. The odor is highly offensive and can be described as a combination of rotten eggs, garlic and burnt rubber. The odor of the fluid is difficult to remove from anything that the spray is directed at and everything surrounding the area. Muscles located next to the scent glands allow them to spray with a high degree of accuracy, as far as 16 feet. The smell aside, the spray can cause irritation and even temporary blindness, brings on violent sickness, running at the nose, and is sufficiently powerful to be detected up to a mile or more downwind. These compounds are detectable by the human nose at concentrations of only 10 parts per billion. The young have the ability to spay at 3 weeks.

Click for skunk hisses

Skunks carry enough of the powerful oily liquid chemical for five or six uses, about 15 cc. Which requires some ten days to produce another supply. Their bold black and white coloring however serves to make the skunk's appearance memorable. Where practical, it is to a skunk's advantage simply to warn a threatening creature off without expending scent. Threatened skunks will go through an elaborate routine of standing and face a threat rather than run away while fluffing its fur, series of hissing sounds, foot stamping, turning it's tail toward the threat, back arching and tail-high threat postures before resorting to the spray. Interestingly, skunks usually do not spray other skunks, with the exception of males in the mating season. Though they fight over den space in autumn, they do so with teeth and claws.

Skunks are common in suburban areas. Frequent encounters with dogs and other domestic animals, and the release of the odor when a skunk is run over, have led to many myths about the removal of the skunk odor. Odor is not always a reliable indicator of the presence or absence of skunks. Sometimes dogs, cats, or other animals that have been sprayed by skunks move under buildings or porches and make owners mistakenly think skunks are present. Due to the chemical composition of the skunk spray, most household remedies are ineffective, with the exception of a peroxide formula or other remedies that break down the sulphur compound.

Some suggestions for removing skunk Odor are:

On Pets: Skunk odor may be neutralized with liberal amounts of vinegar or straight tomato juice. This will make the odor tolerable. Only time will eliminate it.

From Clothing: Combine 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide with l/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid soap (laundry or dishwashing soap).

Inanimate Objects: Chlorine bleach, ammonia or commercial products containing neutroleum alpha may be used.

On People: Carbolic soap and water are safe to use on skin.

Where musk has entered the eyes, severe burning and an excessive tear flow may occur. Temporary blindness of 10 or 15 minutes may result. Rinse the eyes with water to speed recovery.


Breeding usually occurs in late winter or early spring. During the breeding season, a male may travel 4 to 5 miles each night. Males will mate with more than one female. A female can store the male’s sperm and delay initiating pregnancy for some weeks. The female will excavate a den or use the one she spent the winter in. Older females bear young during the first part of spring, while yearling females bear young later in the spring. Younger or smaller females have smaller litters than older or larger females. There is usually only 1 litter annually.
Gestation averages about 60-75 days. Litters commonly consist of 4 to 6 young, but may have up to 16. Skunk "kits" are born blind, deaf, and helpless. Though the skin sports only a light fuzz, the white stripes can already be seen on the black skin. About three weeks after birth, their eyes open. The young remain in the nest for approxamatly two months, are weaned, after which they begin to follow the female as she forages. The mother is very protective of her kits and will often spray at any sign of danger. The male plays no part in raising the young and may even kill them. The kits generally stay with their mother until they are ready to mate, at about one year of age. Both sexes mature by the following spring.
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