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Species Description

Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis


Species Image

Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mephitidae

Description

The Striped Skunk is covered in long black fur, except for a white stripe from the tip of the nose to the forehead, and a white patch on top of the head that extends to the shoulders, then divides into two stripes down the length of the back. The tail is black, tipped with white hairs. The Striped Skunk is about the size of a domestic house cat, measuring 53.3 - 71.1 cm (21 - 28 in) in total length and weighing from 1.4 - 5 kg (3 - 11 lbs). The Striped Skunk is most well known for its chemical warfare in defense against predators. The strong-smelling musk is produced in two glands on either side of the anus. The musk is sprayed by voluntary contraction of muscles. This musk can be expelled as either a fine mist or as droplets for distances up to 3.7 m (12 ft). Musk glands contain enough musk for 5 - 6 sprays and refill within a week. Exposure to the musk may cause nausea, swelling of the nose lining, and eye irritation.

Life Cycle

Breeding takes place from February to April. A litter of 4-11 young are born in a burrow after a gestation averaging 63 days. The young skunks, called "kittens," begin to eat solid food at 6 - 7 weeks of age and leave the den with the female on nightly foraging trips when they are weaned at 8 weeks of age. Kittens leave the care of the female at 12 - 14 weeks of age and disperse to live on their own.

Natural History

The Striped Skunk is generally nocturnal but in the winter months may be diurnal on overcast days. It is omnivorous, eating fruits, berries, rodents, frogs, crayfish, birds, eggs, and insects and their larvae. The Great Horned Owl is its major predator, but the Striped Skunk is also preyed upon by hawks, Coyotes, foxes, and Bobcats. Humans are also a cause of skunk mortality; most people have seen ( or smelled) a dead Striped Skunk along a roadway where it has fallen victim to an encounter with a vehicle. This species is one of the major reservoirs for rabies in wild animal populations. Rabies sometimes remains in a latent form in skunks only to become reactivated later. In the wild, the average lifespan of a Striped Skunk is about 3 years.

Range

Striped Skunk Region Map The Striped Skunk ranges throughout the United States in a wide variety of habitats.

Conservation Status

In Georgia, the trapping season for the Striped Skunk runs from December through mid-February.

Similar Species

The Eastern Spotted Skunk, Spilogale putorius, is much smaller and has 4 - 6 broken white stripes on the back and sides.