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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The Striped Skunk is the most common skunk in North America, yet most of what we know about it comes from studies of captive individuals. Like all skunks, it has a superb defense system, the ability to spray a foul-smelling fluid from two glands near the base of its tail. Skunk musk is oily and difficult to remove. If sprayed in the eyes, it causes intense pain and temporary blindness. Skunk kittens can spray when they are only eight days old, long before they can aim, a skill they exhibit only after their eyes open at about 24 days. Skunks attempt to give a warning before they spray: both Hooded and Striped skunks stamp their front feet before turning around and spraying. Like all skunks, Striped Skunks are nocturnal and eat a variable diet, mostly of insects, but also including small mammals, carrion, and some vegetation.

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
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  • Original description: "Schreber, J.C.D., 1776.  in Schreber's Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen, Wolfgang Walther, Erlangen, 7 volumes, 1774-1846; 3(17):pl. 121[1776], text, 3(26):444, 588 (index)[1777]."
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Throughout much of North America, from northern Baja California, northern Durango, northern Tamaulipas, and Florida to central Canada (southwestern Northwest Territories, Hudson Bay, southern Quebec).

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Range Description

The species occurs throughout most of southern Canada from British Columbia, Hudson Bay, and Nova Scotia, throughout the United States and into northern Mexico (Walker, 1964; Godin, 1982; Honacki et al., 1982).
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Geographic Range

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.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Geographic Range

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.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

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.

Range mass: 1200 to 5300 g.

Range length: 575 to 800 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Physical Description

Striped skunks are easily recognized by their characteristic colors and pattern. The fur is black with a white stripe that begins as a triangular shape on the top of the head, forks into two stripes that travel down the sides of the back, and usually merges again near the base of the tail. Another white stripe runs from the base of the snout between the eyes and ends on the forehead. Stripe width and length vary with each individual. Stripes sometimes occur on the tail, but more often the tail is composed of both black and white hairs intermixed. Mephitis mephitis is about the size of a domestic cat, with a small head, small ears, short legs, and a long, fluffy tail. Feet are plantigrade with five partially webbed toes. Claws are longer on the front feet to aid in digging. The skull is distinct from other carnivores in having only one molar on each side of the upper jaw and two on each side of the lower jaw. The upper molars have a characteristic square shape. The dental formula is 3/3 1/1 3/3 1/2.

Total length varies between 575 and 800 mm, tail length from 173 to 307 mm.

Range mass: 1200 to 5300 g.

Range length: 575 to 800 mm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Size

Length: 80 cm

Weight: 6300 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are 15% larger than females, but females have longer tails.

Length:
Range: 575-800 mm

Weight:
Range: 1,200-5,300 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Prefers semi-open country with woodland and meadows interspersed, brushy areas, bottomland woods. Frequently found in suburban areas. Dens often under rocks, log, or building. May excavate burrow or use burrow abandoned by other mammal.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
There is no single well-defined land type that can be classed as skunk range. They live in a variety of habitats: woods, plains, and desert areas but prefer open or forest-edge zones (Walker, 1964). Striped skunks are most abundant on agricultural lands where there is an ample supply of food and cover (Hamilton and Whitaker, 1979). They also adapt to life in urban areas under houses and garages (Rue, 1981; Rosatte, 1986; Larivière et al., 1999). They have been known to inhabit poorly drained marsh areas (Mutch, 1977). Although recorded from 4,200 m skunks usually are found from sea level to 1,800 m (Rue, 1981). Frequently found in suburban areas. Striped skunks are opportunistic omnivorous predatory feeders (Carr, 1974). Their diet varies depending on season and geographic location. In most areas, they feed extensively on insects (usually grasshoppers and beetles) associated with grassland areas (as opposed to forests). However, when insects are not available (early spring, late fall), their diet shifts to small mammals, birds, or vegetation (Verts, 1967).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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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.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Mephitis mephitis prefers somewhat open areas with a mixture of habitats such as woods, grasslands, and agricultural clearings. They are usually never found further than two miles from a water source. They are also often found in suburban areas because of the abundance of buildings that provide them with cover.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Varied diet of plant/animal foods (insects, small mammals, eggs, carrion, fruit, etc.) Opportunistic. Half of summer diet is insects (Banfield 1974). Excellent digger.

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Food Habits

Striped skunks are true omnivores. A skunk's diet depends on what is available in its foraging territory. They eat many things including insecta, small mammalia (such as baby Peromyscus maniculatus and baby Peromyscus leucopus), carrion, Aves, crustaceans (such as Orconectes propinquus), 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 Apoidea and Formicidae. 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 Orthoptera and Coleoptera.

Animal Foods: mammals; fish; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

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Food Habits

Mephitis mephitis is a true omnivore, eating a vast assortment of things including insects, small mammals, birds and their eggs, crustaceans, fruits, grasses, leaves, buds, grains, nuts, and carrion. 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 are opportunistic and diet changes depending on the time of year and available resources.

Animal Foods: mammals; fish; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Skunks help to control insect populations.

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Predation

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 Bubo virginianus and Buteo jamaicensis.

Known Predators:

  • great horned owls (Bubo_virginianus)
  • red-tailed hawks (Buteo_jamaicensis)

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

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Ecosystem Roles

Skunks help to control insect populations.

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Predation

Mephitis mephitis has perhaps the most widely known defense system of any mammal, the scent-spraying mechanism. Striped skunks usually do not discharge the foul smelling contents of their scent glands unless mortally threatened. When faced with danger they arch the back and erect the tail and hair. When mortally threatened they bend into a U-shape with both head and rump facing the enemy. They then emit two streams of fluid from scent glands located just inside the anus, which meet after travelling about a foot, finally spreading into a fine spray that can travel up to 2 or 3 meters. The spray often causes nausea and burns the eyes and nasal cavities of the unfortunate target. Because of their offensive odor, skunks are rarely preyed on by mammalian predators. Instead they are eaten primarily by large birds, such as great-horned owls and red-tailed hawks.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

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Known prey organisms

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General Ecology

Home range up to several hundred ha; males tend to wander more than do females. Population density may fluctuate greatly. Several individuals, mainly females, may share winter den

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

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.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Communication and Perception

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.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Mostly crepuscular or nocturnal, sometimes active during daytime. May be dormant during extended periods of cold snowy weather; males more likely to be active in winter.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

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

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
3 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
15 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
1 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
<1 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
10.0 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

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

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
3 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
15 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
1 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
<1 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
10.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 13.9 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

Breeds February-late March, peak in mid-February. Reported pregnancy rate is 78-96%. Gestation lasts 62-68 days. Litter of 2-10 (average 6-8) is born from late April to early June; one litter per year. Young are weaned and begin to follow female at 6-7 weeks; some on their own by fall. Sexually mature in first spring.

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Males usually live alone, except for a few days during the breeding season.

Mating System: polygynous

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.

Breeding season: February and March

Range number of offspring: 1.0 to 10.0.

Range gestation period: 77 (high) days.

Average weaning age: 2 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous ; delayed implantation

Average birth mass: 33.5 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
335 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
335 days.

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.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Males are typically polygamous and solitary. Males and females do not associate beyond the few days required for fertilization.

Mating System: polygynous

Females are monestrous, but they occasionally can have a second estrous if the first pregnancy is unsuccessful. Mating takes place from mid-February until mid-March. The gestation period is between 60 and 77 days, with delayed implantation probably involved. Usually, five or six young are born in each litter. At birth, baby striped skunks are blind, deaf, and extremely immature. They nurse for about a month and a half in the mother's den. Fully weaned, the young then follow the mother about, finally breaking from the family about a year after reaching adult size.

Breeding season: February and March

Range number of offspring: 1.0 to 10.0.

Range gestation period: 77 (high) days.

Average weaning age: 2 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous ; delayed implantation

Average birth mass: 33.5 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
335 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
335 days.

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.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Mephitis mephitis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

ATGTTCATAAATCGGTGATTATTTTCTACTAATCACAAAGACATCGGCACTCTTTATCTTTTATTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGAATAGCAGGAACTGCCCTTAGCTTATTAATTCGGGCTGAGCTGGGGCAACCCGGAGCCCTATTAGGTGATGACCAAATTTATAATGTAGTTGTAACAGCTCATGCATTTGTCATAATCTTTTTTATAGTAATACCTATTATAATCGGTGGATTTGGGAACTGATTAGTTCCTTTAATAATTGGAGCCCCCGATATAGCATTTCCACGAATAAATAACATGAGCTTCTGACTATTACCCCCATCCTTTCTGTTACTATTAGCTTCCTCCATAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCAGGAACCGGATGAACAGTGTATCCCCCATTAGCAGGTAACCTAGCCCACGCAGGAGCATCTGTAGATTTGACAATCTTCTCTCTTCATTTAGCAGGGGTATCATCCATTTTAGGGGCTATTAACTTTATTACTACAATCATTAATATAAAACCCCCTGCAATATCACAATATCAGACCCCTCTATTCGTATGGTCTGTTCTAATTACAGCAGTTCTACTTCTCCTGTCATTACCAGTACTAGCAGCTGGTATTACTATGCTACTAACAGATCGAAATCTTAATACAACCTTTTTTGACCCAGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCCATTTTGTATCAACACCTGTTCTGATTCTTTGGACACCCAGAAGTCTATATCTTAATCTTGCCAGGATTTGGAATAATTTCACACATTGTAACCTACTACTCAGGTAAAAAAGAACCTTTTGGGTATATAGGAATAGTGTGAGCAATAATATCTATTGGCTTCTTAGGCTTTATTGTATGAGCACATCACATATTTACAGTAGGCATAGATGTAGATACGCGAGCTTATTTTACCTCTGCCACCATGATTATTGCAATCCCAACTGGAGTAAAAGTATTCAGTTGGCTAGCTACACTGCATGGAGGTAATATCAAATGATCACCCGCTATACTGTGAGCACTAGGGTTCATTTTCTTATTTACTGTAGGAGGTCTTACAGGGATTGTATTATCTAATTCCTCACTGGATATTGTACTCCACGACACATATTATGTAGTAGCTCATTTCCACTATGTATTATCAATGGGGGCAGTATTTGCCATTATAGGCGGTTTTGTTCACTGATTCCCTTTATTCTCAGGCTATACACTCAATGACACATGAGCAAAAATTCACTTTACAATTATATTTGTAGGAGTAAACATAACATTTTTCCCTCAACACTTCCTAGGTCTATCAGGAATACCTCGACGTTACTCAGATTACCCTGACGCCTACACAACATGAAACACAGTATCCTCTATAGGCTCATTCATCTCACTCACAGCAGTTATATTAATAGTCTTCATGATTTGAGAAGCCTTTGCATCCAAACGAGAGGTGCTAACAATTAGCTATACTTCAACCAACATTGAATGGTTACATGGATGCCCTCCTCCATATCATACATTCGAAGAACCCGCCTATGTTTTATTAAAATAA
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Mephitis mephitis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Reid, F. & Helgen, K.

Reviewer/s
Duckworth, J.W. (Small Carnivore Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Least Concern as they are widely distributed in a variety of habitats including human altered habitats and have increased in abundance in many regions during recent years (Andren 1995, Kuehl and Clark 2002).
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Striped skunks are abundant and are not of any conservation concern.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Striped skunks are abundant and are not of any conservation concern.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
Density estimates for striped skunk populations ranged from 0.7 to 18.5/km2 but most were 1.8 to 4.8/km2 (Allen and Shapton, 1942; Bailey, 1971; Bennitt and Nagel, 1937; Burt, 1946; Jones, 1939; Stout and Sonenshine, 1974; Verts, 1967). Density levels reported fluctuated widely between years, possibly in response to outbreaks of diseases (Allen and Shapton, 1942; Brown and Yeager, 1943; Verts, 1967). Skunk populations seemingly have high recruitment and turnover rates because 50 to 71% of striped skunks do not attain an age of 1 year (Bailey, 1971; Casey and Webster, 1975; Verts, 1967). Due to removal of top predators (Crooks and Soulé, 1999; Rogers and Caro, 1998; Soulé et al., 1988), altered land use (Dijak and Thompson, 2000; Donovan et al. 1997; Oehler and Litvaitis, 1996), reduced harvest of skunks (Hamilton and Vangilder, 1992), and perhaps other factors, populations of M. mephitis, have increased in abundance in many regions during recent years (Andren, 1995; Kuehl and Clark, 2002).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are vulnerable to a variety of mortality agents such as predation, disease, environmental conditions (e.g., severe winter or drought), chemicals, and anthropogenic activities (Gehrt, 2005; Hansen et al., 2004; Rosatte and Larivière, 2003). Another limiting factor in skunk populations are diseases such as rabies and the resultant control programs (Sikes, 1970). Terrestrial rabies apparently was the case for skunks in Illinois, where population fluctuations are closely tied to rabies outbreaks (Verts, 1967). Striped skunk pelts were considered valuable commodities in the fur trade in the first half of the 20th century, but their value and the number of skunks harvested for fur declined dramatically in the 1950's and 1960's as fashions shifted away from long-haired furs (Verts, 1967). Striped skunks may be harvested in most areas of the United States and Canada. In some states, such as Florida, skunks may be taken only in season, but most states allow harvests year-round (Rosatte, 1987).
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Management

Management Requirements: See Conover (1990) for information on the use of emetine dihydrochloride to reduce predation on chicken eggs. See Bickle et al. (1991) for information on the use of hormone implants to limit populations through control fertility; this method could be useful in urban/suburban situations.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Given the ecological and economic importance of this species, there is a need to better understand microhabitat factors that are associated with occurrence of the taxon (Baldwin et al., 2004).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Large numbers of pelts taken in some areas, but value relatively low (pelt yielded average of about $1.60 in Ok in early 1980s (Caire et al. 1989). Can do considerable damage to poultry. Major carrier and reservoir of rabies (though most skunks are not rabid).

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); causes or carries domestic animal disease

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); causes or carries domestic animal disease

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Striped skunk

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is an omnivorous mammal of the skunk family Mephitidae. Found north of Mexico, it is one of the best-known mammals in Canada and the United States.[3]

Description[edit]

The striped skunk has a black body with a white stripe along each side of its body; the two stripes join into a broader white area at the nape. Its forehead has a narrow white stripe. Similar in size to a domestic cat, this species is the heaviest species of skunk, though it is not as long (in body or tail length) as the American hog-nosed skunk.[4] Adults can weigh from 2.5 to 15 lb (1.1 to 6.8 kg), although the average weight is 6–8 lb (2.7–3.6 kg). The animal's length (excluding the tail) is 13 to 18 in (33 to 46 cm). Males tend to be around 10% larger than females.[5] The bushy tail is 7 to 10 in (18 to 25 cm), and sometimes has a white tip. The presence of a striped skunk is often first made apparent by its odor. It has well-developed anal scent glands (characteristic of all skunks) that can emit a highly unpleasant odor when the skunk feels threatened.

Range and ecology[edit]

Striped skunk

The striped skunk is widespread throughout North America. Its range includes south Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia as well as most of the continental United States and parts of northern Mexico.[5][6] It can be found in elevations up to 1800 m but rarely above 4000 m.[7] Skunks can be found in a number of habitats, including woodlands, grasslands and agricultural lands. The skunk has increased its range with the cutting of forests throughout North America.[5]

The striped skunk is omnivorous and has a varied diet. Its diet consists mostly of insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and crickets.[5][6][8] It also eats earthworms, snails, crayfish, wasps and ants.[5][8] It preys on vertebrates like frogs and small mammals including voles, mice, moles, rats and squirrels.[5][8][9] It also eats bird eggs. Plant matter the skunk eats include blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, blueberries, grains, corn, and nuts.[5] Skunks eat mostly insects and mammals during the spring and summer.[7] During the fall and winter, more plant matter is consumed.[6] In settled areas, skunks also seek human garbage. Less often, skunks may be found acting as scavengers, eating bird and rodent carcasses left by cats or other animals. Pet owners, particularly those of cats, may experience a skunk finding its way into a garage or basement where pet food is kept. Skunks commonly dig holes in lawns in search of grubs and worms.

Skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings. The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate.

Most predatory animals of the Americas, such as wolves, foxes and badgers, seldom attack skunks – presumably out of fear of being sprayed. The exception is the great horned owl—the animal's only serious predator—which, like most birds, has a poor-to-nonexistent sense of smell.

Behavior and reproduction[edit]

A striped skunk kit
In Parc Omega, Quebec, Canada

The skunk is crepuscular. Beginning its search for food at dawn and dusk, it feeds on mice, eggs, carrion, insects, grubs, and berries. At sunrise, it retires to its den, which may be in a ground burrow, or beneath a building, boulder, or rock pile. While the male dens by itself, several females may live together. The striped skunk does not hibernate but instead goes into a dormant or semi-active state. Outside the breeding season, males are solitary and try to build fat reserves while females defend their maternity dens.[5]

Breeding in the skunk mostly occurs from mid-February to mid-April.[5][8] A skunk breeds only once a year.[5][9] Male skunks are polygamous and will mate with several females in succession.[5] When encountering an estrous female, a male will approach her from the rear and then smell and lick the vulva area.[5] The male then grasps the female by the nape and then mounts and copulates with her.[5][9]

Once a female is impregnated she doesn’t allow any more copulations and will fight off any male that tries to mount her.[5] However, females that lose their litters may lead to a later mating.[8] The young are born in May or early June.[8] Skunks tend to have litters of 4 to 8 with 2 and 10 being extremes.[8] The young are born hairless but have their striping pattern.[8] By eight days, the young’s musk odor can be emitted. By 22 days, the young’s eyes open.[8] After an eight week nursing, the litter then hunt with their mothers and eventually they disperse.[8]

In captivity[edit]

A domesticated skunk

The striped skunk can be kept as a pet in the United States (not all states), Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the United Kingdom. The striped skunk – but not other species, depending on the province – is illegal to keep as a pet in Canada. Although capable of living indoors with humans similarly to dogs or cats, pet skunks are relatively rare, partly due to restrictive laws and the complexity of their care. Pet skunks are mainly kept in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy.

In the United States, pet skunks can be purchased from licensed animal shelters, non-profit skunk educational organizations such as the American Domestic Skunk Association, Inc., or breeders with a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Baby skunk availability peaks during springtime, immediately following the skunk mating season. Some large fur farms sell surplus skunks.

Classification and first identification[edit]

The striped skunk was first described by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1776.[10]

Thirteen subspecies of striped skunk are generally recognized:[1]

  • M. m. avia Bangs, 1898
  • M. m. elongata Bangs, 1895
  • M. m. estor Merriam, 1890
  • M. m. holzneri Mearns, 1898
  • M. m. hudsonica Richardson, 1829
  • M. m. major Howell, 1901
  • M. m. mephitis Schreber, 1776
  • M. m. mesomelas Lichtenstein, 1832
  • M. m. nigra Peale and Palisot de Beauvois, 1796
  • M. m. notata Hall, 1936
  • M. m. occidentalis Baird, 1858
  • M. m. spissigrada Bangs, 1898
  • M. m. varians Gray, 1837

In popular culture[edit]

Skunks have made their way into popular culture, as Flower in Disney's Bambi and Chuck Jones's Pepé Le Pew

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Reid, F. & Helgen, K. (2008). "Mephitis mephitis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  3. ^ Burt, William H.; Grossenheider, Richard P. A Field Guide to the Mammals (of America North of Mexico). he Petersen Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 65. ISBN 0-395-24084-0. 
  4. ^ Luke, Hunter (2011). Carnivores of the World. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691152288. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Godin, A. J. 1982. "Striped and hooded skunks." In: J. A. Chapman and G. A. Feldhamer (eds), Wild mammals of North America: biology, management, and economics, pp. 674–687. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
  6. ^ a b c Rosatte, R. C. 1987. Striped, Spotted, Hooded, and Hog-nosed Skunk. In: M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard and B. Malloch (eds), Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America, pp. 1150 pp.. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Trappers Association, Ontario, Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  7. ^ a b Rue, L. L. 1981. Furbearing animals of North America. Crown Publications, New York, USA.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hamilton Jr., W. J. and Whitaker Jr., J. O. 1979. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.
  9. ^ a b c Verts, B. J. 1967. The biology of the striped skunk. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, USA.
  10. ^ ITIS Report. "ITIS Standard Report: Mephitis Mephitis". Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Based on patterns of mtDNA variation in Mustelidae, Dragoo and Honeycut (1997) recommended that skunks (Mehitis, Conepatus, Spilogale) and the Oriental stink badger (MYDAUS) be separated as a distinct family (Mephitidae). Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) recognized the family Mephitidae.

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