Wildlife

Skunk

The Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Description

The striped skunk is easily identified by the white stripe that runs from its head to its tail. Its stripes start with a triangle at the head and break into two stripes down its back. The stripes usually meet again and form one stripe at the base of their tail. Their tails are usually a mixture of white and black fur. Each striped skunk has a unique stripe pattern. The striped skunk is about the same size as a house cat. It has a small triangular head and little ears. Its legs are short with webbed toes and claws the striped skunk uses for digging and looking for food.

Habits and Habitats

Whereas most mammals have evolved coloration that blends with their environment, the Striped Skunk, like other skunks, is boldly colored, advertising to potential enemies that it is not to be bothered. Its anal glands hold about a tablespoon of a fetid, oily, yellowish musk, enough for five or six jets of spray - although one is usually enough. When threatened, the Striped Skunk will face the intruder, arch and elevate its tail, erect the tail hairs, chatter its teeth, and stomp the ground with the front feet. This usually causes the intruder to retreat, but if it remains, the skunk will twist its back around, raise its tail straight up, evert its anal nipples, and spray scent 10 to 15 feet (3 - 5 m). The mist may reach three times as far, and the smell may carry a mile. Spray in the eyes causes intense pain and fleeting loss of vision.

The Striped Skunk is primarily nocturnal and does not hibernate, although during extremely cold weather it may become temporarily dormant. The animal's temperature drops only from about 98.6º to 87.8º F (37º to 31º C), rather than down to the temperature of its den.

The Striped Skunk is an omnivore, feeding heavily on a wide variety of animal food in spring and summer, including insects and grubs, small mammals, the eggs of ground-nesting birds, and amphibians. Some of the more important invertebrate foods consumed are beetles and their larvae, grasshoppers and crickets, earthworms, butterfly and moth larvae, spiders, snails, ants, bees and wasps, and crayfish. This skunk eats fruits in season, such as wild cherries, ground cherries, blackberries, blueberries, and many others. In the fall, the animal gorges itself to fatten up in preparation for the lean winter months.

The Striped Skunk usually dens in a burrow that has been abandoned by another animal, although it may also dig its own or use a protected place, such as a hollow log, crevice, or the space beneath a building. Maternal and wintertime dens are underground; other dens are often aboveground. The young are weaned at six to seven weeks, at which time their scent has developed but is not yet very potent. Mother and offspring begin to hunt together at about this time. A mother skunk is fiercely protective of her young, and at the approach of an intruder she will posture and spray if necessary. The procession of a mother skunk followed by her young in single file is an amusing sight. The skunk is not a social animal, although in winter several skunks will sometimes occupy one den.

The striped skunk is only found in North America. Its range runs from central Canada to northern Mexico. Habitat The striped skunk tends to live in open areas with a mix of habitats like woods and grasslands or meadows. It is usually never further than two miles from water.

The only serious predator of the skunk is the great horned owl. Mothballs sprinkled on the ground discourage skunks from digging up lawns for insects and visiting homes or campsites, since they and many other small animals are repelled by the smell of camphor. Pelts of the Striped Skunk are not highly valued, but the musk, once its odor is removed, is used as a perfume base because of its clinging quality.

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