Distinctive Defense

Without question, striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are best known for their remarkable defense systems.

Glands under the tail produce an oily, sulfurous fluid a skunk can accurately spray up to 10 feet, temporarily disabling potential attackers and allowing the skunk to escape. It can take over a week to replenish the chemical once it’s depleted, so a skunk will usually try to ward off threats first  by hissing, stamping its feet and making threatening postures. Those telltale black and white stripes likely discourage many would-be attackers from approaching in the first place.

Skunks are considered “opportunistic feeders,” which means they’ll eat just about anything they can find, including insects, grubs, mice, moles, young cottontails, berries and other vegetation, eggs,  garbage, and pet food.

They're nocturnal and prefer to live near water but are common in cities and suburbs that provide adequate food and shelter. Common den sites include abandoned woodchuck burrows, hollow logs, wood or brush piles, crawl spaces, and areas under decks, sheds, concrete slabs and porches. They do not hibernate but may stay in their dens for long periods of time, especially in bad weather.

Skunks mate between mid-February and mid-March and have litters of four to eight in May or early June, which the females raise alone. Young are weaned by the time they’re 2 months old and leave their dens in fall to find territories of their own.

Scientists once considered skunks part of the Mustelidae, or weasel, family, but because of recent genetic evidence, they're now in a different family.