Total length: 20 to 28 inches.
Weights: 6 to 14 pounds.
Lives in a variety of habitats including semi-open
country, mixed woods, brushland, and open prairie.
Most abundant in agricultural areas where there is
ample food and cover. Usually absent where
water table is too high for making round dens.
An opportunistic, omnivorous, predatory feeder.
Consumes mice, insects, eggs, berries, and carrion.
Diet varies greatly depending on season and
geographic location. From November through
April, when food is scarce or unavailable, skunks
spend extended periods in their dens.
Mostly nocturnal and does not hibernate. Uses
ground burrows, abandoned or occupied building
foundations, and wood or rock piles as den sites.
Will use dens created by other animals. When
frightened or threatened, sprays a strong and
long-lasting musk produced by anal scent glands.
Mating occurs during February and April; 59 to 77
days gestation; may exhibit delayed implantation;
young born during May or June; 5 to 6 young is the
usual litter size.
A few specimens of the spotted skunk have been
captured in Montana. The spotted skunk has a
black spot on forehead, one under each ear, and four
broken white stripes along neck, back, and sides.
The Latin word "mephitis"
translates to "bad odor", and many people would
agree that the name "bad odor - bad odor" aptly fits
the common and abundant striped skunk.
Smaller spotted skinks are
also distributed widely, and two species are
recognized. Known as "civets" to the fur trade, the
western spotted skinks experience a delayed
implantation reproduction, while the eastern skunks
do not. All species of skunks are attracted to a
wide variety of baits, and they are frequently
caught in traps set for other species.
adult striped skinks weigh 6 to 8 pounds, although body
weight might be significantly heavier in late fall as
the skunks attain layers of fat to sustain themselves
through winter. Spotted skunks are much smaller, usually
weighing 2 or 3 pounds. Males of both types are slightly
heavier than females.
All striped skunks have a white
stripe on the head between the nose and the forehead. A
white crest, or cap, is typical on the top of the head,
and a continuing white stripe usually divides over the
shoulder area into two stripes that continue along the
sides of the animal into the tail. The amount of white
coloration varies with the individual skunk, with some
having broad stripes, narrow stripes, short stripes or
even none at all.
Spotted skunks have a white
patch on the forehead area, and a broken pattern of
white striping that appears as blotches or spots of
white in the otherwise black fur. The amount of white
also varies with individuals. Some spotted skunks have
mostly black tails while other can be mostly white.
The scent glands in skunks are
well developed. Musk, or essence, can be sprayed
repeatedly as a defense. The yellowish compound is
powerful in all skunks, and contains sulfuric acid which
can cause temporary blindness in both other animals and
Striped and spotted skunks have
5 toes on each foot. The front feet have relatively long
claws to assist them in digging for grubs and other
foods. Both skunks have 34 teeth, including 4 pointed
and sharp canines teeth.
Skunk fur is rather long, and
longer on tails than on bodies. Underfur is white under
the white guard hairs, and grayish under the black
colored guard hairs.
skunks often breed during February, and the males do a
great deal of traveling at this time to locate females.
Many times, females will live in an underground den
through the winter with only one male, who will protect
the communal den from invasion by another male.
Gestation periods are usually 63
days, and all bred females seek solitary dens to raise
their young by themselves.
Litter sizes of striped skunks
are usually 6 to 8, except for the first litter, which
usually numbers 4.
The eastern species of spotted
skunk, Spilogale Putorius, usually breed in
April. Gestation is about 60 days before 3 to 5 young
The western species, Spillage
Cracilus, breeds in September or October and
gestation is about 140 days due to a delayed
The litter of striped and
spotted skunks begin following their mothers at 6 weeks
of age. Travel is often single file, and the young are
quick to learn to find grubs and insects.
The family unit breaks up as the
young reach 3 months of age. Dispersal is not
significant, and the juvenile females may continue to
share their mother's den. Males are evicted, however, by
the dominant male, and the juvenile male skunks are
forced to find other suitable den locations.
skunks are mostly nocturnal, doing most of their hunting
and traveling during the night. Territory sizes are
somewhat small, and overlapping or sharing of
territories is normal as the species does not defend
it's territory against others of the same species as do
some other species. Home ranges are considered to be
about 4 square miles, but most skunks do not travel more
than a mile or so in one night's activity.
Communal dens are common during
the time of year that young are not being raised, and 6
to 20 skunks might share a den with one male at a time.
Striped skunks suffer from poor
vision at a distance of more than 2 or 3 feet. A keen
sense of smell enables then to easily locate foods,
which vary with the season. Not a particularly swift
animal, skunks don't need good distance vision to locate
prey species which have little or no mobility. The
ability to see a predator at a distance is not necessary
either, as the threat of spraying its musk will usually
deter all but ignorant predators, who soon receive a
Skunks usually give ample
warning before they spray their musk. Spraying is a
defense mechanism and used only when the animal feels
that it is necessary to protect its own life. Warnings
usually include a lifting of the tail, a turning of the
back towards the danger, and sometimes, a pounding of
the front feet in a drummer-like fashion.
Spotted skunks are more agile
than striped skunks. Their territory sizes are similar
to striped skunks. This species can climb very well, and
they descend trees head first.
When threatened, spotted skunks
commonly do handstands, balancing on their front feet
while they lift their bodies into the air. This
balancing act usually lasts for about 5 seconds at a
time. The species can spray an offender from this
Spotted skunks are almost
strictly nocturnal, usually retiring to a den before
daylight, and coming out only after dark in the evening.
Skunks are not true hibernators,
but both species may spend weeks at a time in dens
during cold temperatures and deep snow conditions.
Striped skunks usually utilize underground dens that
have been made by badgers, groundhogs or foxes. At
times, they will tolerate other species in its den, even
curling up and sleeping with a raccoon or opossum.
Spotted skunks prefer dens under
or in old buildings. Oftentimes, a den will on the
second floor of an old barn. Dens in haylofts are
common, and the spotted skunks easily climb to the
Slow and poorly sighted
furbearers, striped skunks are opportunistic feeders.
Grubs and insects are commonly located and dug out of
the ground, along with juvenile mice, rabbits, and
ground nesting birds or eggs found. Fruits and grains
are eaten when available, and carrion is commonly eaten
during the winter months when many foods are not
Spotted skunks are more
efficient than striped skunks as predators. These
smaller skunks kill and eat significantly more mice and
rats. Spotted skunks also frequent the edges of streams
and ponds, and they do wade shallow water in pursuit of
crayfish, a preferred food.
skunks are not well liked by people, they do provide
valuable services by controlling significant numbers of
injurious insects in the larval stages. The diet of
spotted skunks is almost entirely beneficial to man.
Both striped and spotted skunks can raid chicken houses.
The worst offender is usually the spotted skunk because
it can climb easily to gain access.
Spotted skunks do dig up lawns
in pursuit of grubs, and this is an annoyance to those
who spend time and money to groom lawns.
The concern of Rabies in striped
skunks is very real. More striped skunks than all other
species combined are tested positive for rabies every
year, and this disease is always a threat to livestock,
pets and man.
Striped skunks can destroy a
significant number of waterfowl nests. However, recent
studies indicate that they may be beneficial to
waterfowl populations because skunks are the only
significant predator of a far more serious waterfowl,
the snapping turtle. Striped skunks relish snapping
turtle eggs, which are commonly found, unearthed and
Six years of age is considered
old for either a striped or spotted skunk.
Best Management Practices