Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

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Almost everyone knows the skunk on sight. Its black body with white markings is as distinctive as its ability to spray a foul-smelling liquid from anal scent glands located under the tail. Although not fatal, the excreted liquid is an effective deterrent to both other animals and careless people, as the skunk is able to project the liquid as far as 12 feet (3.6 m). As a result, this animal has few natural enemies. Even large predators which could easily kill a skunk – such as wolves, foxes and coyotes – rarely approach it. Its only predator of note is the Great Horned Owl, which has a very poor sense of smell.

The Striped Skunk is easily identified by the two white bands which run the length of its black body from the back of the head to the tip of the tail. The head is generally small with a pointed snout, perfect for rooting around in the brush or dirt looking for insects, small rodents or birds’ eggs. The skunk’s tail is very bushy. The skunk will often wave its tail in the air and stamp its feet as a warning to other animals it intends to spray. This species only mates once a year, usually in the spring. Typically two to ten young are born in a litter the following summer. Except during mating season, male skunks are solitary. Females may live in groups, especially if they are rearing young.

Range and Habitat

This is one of the largest and most wide-spread skunk species in North America. It can be found in every state and province in the United States, Canada, and parts of northern Mexico. A highly adaptable creature, the Striped Skunk can make its home in a variety of habitats, from a dense woodland to the wood pile behind a house. It rarely strays far from water, however. As denning animals, Striped Skunks usually below ground or hidden during the day, reappearing at dawn and dusk to forage. In some areas, it is considered a nuisance animal due to its tendency to raid unsecured garbage or even enter homes through cat doors.

Conservation Status


Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service.