North American Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

Species Information

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This skunk is found in North America in Canada, USA, and Northern Mexico. They inhabit forested areas, grasslands, and urban areas.

This skunk is distinguishable by the stripes across the length of its back; this is where this species gets its other name the ‘striped skunk’. This fur is conspicuous and obvious to potential predators. However, this acts as a deterrent as predators are discouraged to approach skunks as the bright colouration signals that the prey potentially has a defence mechanism or the predator has learned that the skunk indeed does. This defence mechanism is their ‘stink’. This involves secreting an oily, toxic, foul-smelling musk from an anal scent gland which can be sprayed 6 metres! If this mist hits a threat, it causes a nauseating, blinding and if ingested a fatally poisoning reaction, and so predators often avoid this conspicuous looking animal. This is an important deterrent as they have short legs and so cannot run very fast. But they do have long claws on their front feet to aid digging and also have webbed feet to help them swim.

These omnivores eat insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, carrion, vegetation, corn, nuts and fruits.

3 years in the wild but up to 15 years in human care.

Skunks venture out of their dens and burrows at night to forage for food and eat as much as they can during the summer months. This will then provide them with an insulting layer of fat for the harsher winter months. Although they have the effective spraying technique to deter predators, they do not like to spray as they are not immune to the smell. Therefore, they will only use the spray as a large resort and instead will initially use behavioural threats behave to frighten intruders. For example, perform a headstand and raise their thick, puffed tail signaling a clear warning posture, or arch their back and raise their tail when approaching intruders whilst stomping their feet, hissing and clicking. They are generally solitary, but females sometimes are found together, and they are found gathering in groups during winter for warmth. them.

Males become more aggressive and territorial during mating season, defending a harem of females from other potential male mates. If successful, the male will mate with each individual in a group of females. Then after about 66 days, a female will give birth to about 4-8 kits in her den.

Least Concern

They also get their name from the Latin word “mephit” meaning ‘bad odour’!