Find striped skunk information at Animal Diversity Web
1200 to 5300 g; avg. 3250 g
(42.24 to 186.56 oz; avg. 114.4 oz)
575 to 800 mm
(22.64 to 31.5 in)
Striped skunks are easily recognized by their unique colors and pattern. Their fur is black with a white stripe that begins as a triangular shape on the top of the head and splits into two stripes that travel down the sides of the back. These two stripes come together again near the base of the tail. They also have a white stripe running from their nose between their eyes and ending on their forehead. Striped skunks are about the size of small house cats, with a small head, small ears, short legs, and a long, fluffy tail. Claws are longer on the front feet to aid in digging. Skunks are from 575 to 800 mm in body length and have tails that are from 173 to 307 mm in length.
Striped skunks are native only to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout much of North America, ranging from central Canada, throughout the United States, and south into northern Mexico.
Striped skunks prefer open areas with a mixture of habitats such as woods, grasslands, and farms. They are found in all but the most arid habitat types. They usually live within two miles of a water source. They are frequently found in suburban areas where buildings provide them with burrows.
Males usually live alone, except for a few days during the breeding season.
Striped skunks breed from mid-February until mid-March. The mother carries the babies for 59 to 77 days. From 1 to 10 helpless young are born. They are blind, deaf, and hairless but are capable of spraying skunk must as early as 8 days old. Their eyes open at 24 days old and their ears open soon after that. They are cared for in the den by their mother for two months, after which they are weaned. Young may stay with their mother for up to a year after reaching their adult size.
Female striped skunks nurture their young inside their bodies before they are born and then provide them with milk afterward. Male skunks provide no parental care.
3 years (high)
15 years (high)
1 years (high); avg. <1 years
Up to 90% of skunks die in their first winter. In the wild skunks may live to be 2 to 3 years old. In captivity they have been known to survive for up to 15 years
Striped skunks use scent marking to communicate presence and reproductive state to other skunks. They also communicate visually, by raising their fur and changing posture. Skunks have a good sense of hearing, but their vision is poor. They are mostly silent, but do make a variety of sounds such as churring, hisses, and screams.
Striped skunks are true omnivores. A skunk's diet depends on what is available in its foraging territory. They eat many things including insects, small mammals (such as baby deer mice and baby white-footed mice), carrion, birds and their eggs, crustaceans (such as crayfish), fruits, grasses, leaves, buds, grains, and nuts.
Insects make up approximately 70% of their diet. Striped skunks often attack the nests of colonial insects, such as bees and ants. When attacking a bee hive, they wait for the angry bees to emerge from the hive, then bat them out of the air and eat them. Striped skunks also eat large numbers of grasshoppers and beetle larvae.
Striped skunks have perhaps the most widely known defense system of any mammal, the scent-spraying mechanism. Striped skunks usually do not spray unless their life is in danger. When faced with danger, striped skunks arch their back and put up their tail and hair. If they feel that their life is in danger, they will bend into a U-shape with both head and rear-end facing the enemy. They then squirt out two streams of fluid from their rear-end that can travel up to 3 meters. The spray often causes nausea and burns the eyes and nasal cavities of the unfortunate target. Skunks advertise their noxious characteristic with their bright coloration, a phenomenon called aposematism. When an animal is sprayed by this brightly colored animal it will quickly learn to associate the skunk's appearance with their unpleasant experience and avoid skunks in the future. Because of their offensive odor, skunks are rarely preyed on by mammalian predators, which typically have an excellent sense of smell. Instead they are eaten primarily by large birds, such as great-horned owls and red-tailed hawks.
Skunks help to control insect populations.
Striped skunks sometimes eat crops and raid chicken pens, though this is rare. They are one of the primary carriers of sylvatic rabies and thus can be very dangerous to pets and humans. They can also cause some damage when building their burrows.
Striped skunks, because of their diet, often eliminate insect and rodent pests that cause destruction of crops. In the past, skunk furs were of great importance to the fur industry, but skunk fur value has declined along with the industry. Skunks are also kept as pets, though this is illegal in most states because of their role in rabies transmission.
Striped skunks are abundant and are not of any conservation concern.
The spray from a skunk will not cause permanent blindness. Natural tears will quickly remove the chemicals from the eyes. It is very difficult to remove the scent from clothing.
There are four subspecies of striped skunks, most of which are separated by a massive barrier such as the Mackinac Straits. They differ mainly in fur coloration patterns.
Christopher J. Wilke, University of Michigan
Allison Poor, University of Michigan
Baker, Rollin H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. The Michigan State University Press, Lansing, Michigan.
Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. Mammals of Canada. The University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Burt, William H. 1946. The Mammals of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Nowak, Ronald M. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
Verts, B.J. 1967. The Biology of the Striped Skunk. The University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois.