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Florida Boardwalk Animal Fact Sheet
STRIPED SKUNK
Mephitis mephitis

Range:
Southern Canada through most of the United States to northern Mexico The skunk belongs to the family Mustelidae along with the badger, weasel, mink and otter. All mustelids have musk or stink glands at the base of the tail but the skunk is the best known owner of these and can squirt a nauseating fluid at its enemies.

Skunks live in burrows that they dig for themselves or in abandoned burrows of badgers, foxes or woodchucks, or under buildings, denning up by day and only coming out at night to forage. Although not true hibernators, most skunks, especially those in the northern parts of their range, settle down in their dens and sleep for long periods during the cold weather. The dens are lined with dry leaves and grass. Occasionally several skunks den together.

When disturbed or attacked a skunk lowers its head, erects its tail, stamps a warning with its front paws and, if this does not deter the enemy, turns its back and squirts an amber-colored foul-smelling fluid from its anal glands for as far as 12 feet with unerring accuracy. This pungent spray can cause temporary blindness if it touches the eyes and its odor can be detected half-a-mile away. A striped skunk will turn its back to a predator and eject its fluid at the enemy. A spotted skunk may discharge from a "hand-stand" position. Interestingly, skunks apparently don't like the smell of their spray. They prefer to flee and save the chemical onslaught only for threats they can't elude.

Most predators give skunks a wide berth but pumas and bobcats occasionally kill and eat them when their usual prey is scarce. Only the great horned owl preys regularly on the skunk and it usually has a noticeable odor of skunk about it. Many skunks are killed every year on the road by cars, particularly at dusk. They have never learned to run away from a car but stand their ground and eject their fluid in futile defiance, as if at a predator.

Habitat: Woods, plains and desert areas
Diet: Mainly insects such as beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and caterpillars. They will also take mice, frogs, eggs, small birds and crayfish. As the winter approaches the striped skunk becomes fat, adding leaves, grain, nuts and carrion to its diet.
Status: Least Concern (IUCN)
Approximate Dimensions of Adult: Weight: 6 - 14 lbs.
Height: 24"- 30" long including tail of 8" (females are somewhat smaller)
Lifespan: 10 - 12 years in captivity
Reproduction & Offspring:

Gestation: 42-63 days. Offspring: 4 - 5, occasionally up to 10. Breeding takes place in late winter or early spring preceded by boisterous but relatively harmless fighting among the males. The young, or kit, are born in the den and weigh about an ounce at birth, are blind, hairless and toothless but the black and white pattern shows plainly on the skin. Its eyes open in 21 days and it is weaned in 6-7 weeks but towards the end of this period it is taken on hunting trips by its mother. By the autumn, the family breaks up and each youngster goes its own way to fend for itself. Skunks become mature in about a year.


 

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