Striped skunks are classified in the Mephitis genus. They are found throughout northern Mexico, southern Canada and the United States and classified into thirteen subspecies. The first striped skunk was named in eastern Canada by the German naturalist J.C.D. von Schreber in the 1700’s. He was a professor at the University of Erlangen and responsible for giving several animals their first scientific name.
The Algonquian and Iroquoian words seganku and scangaresse were the first words for skunk. The Ojibew and Cree word shee-gawk is the root phrase for Chicago that translates to skunk-land. The common skunk, northern skunk, prairie polecat, black-tailed skunk and Hudsonian skunk are all alternate expressions for the striped skunk. Fur hunters in the late nineteenth century used the name Alaska sable.
Insects are the primary source of the skunk’s sustenance. Crickets, caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, bees and larvae are the most common. Crayfish, worms, various arthropods and other invertebrates are consumed on occasion. The spring and winter months are supplemented with white-footed mice, eggs, voles and baby chicks found in ground nests. Fish, carrion, reptiles and amphibians are eaten when available. Costal California striped skunks feed on beached fish and crabs.
The animal dines on vegetables and fruits when they are in season. Blueberries, black cherries, ground cherries, apples, corn and nightshade are abundant. Sharp claws are used to eviscerate rotting logs to uncover grubs and unearth soil or pin down prey. The shallow pits left behind are the easiest way to notice their presence in a habitat. Woodlands and open fields near rocky outcrops and ravines are their preferred landscapes
They have few natural enemies. Predators stay clear unless they are starving. The risk of being blinded by the musk does not outweigh the gain of calories. Gray and red foxes, badgers, bobcats, coyotes and cougars are the few that will attempt an encounter. Predatory eagles and owls have better odds. Striped skunks are major carriers of the rabies virus. They are accountable for one quarter of the annual cases in the United States. Raccoons are responsible for more.
Adult males are ten percent larger than females. Everyone weighs between four and ten pounds. The largest documented was twelve pounds. The total body length falls in the range of one and a half to two and a half feet long. Their feet are plantigrade and lay flat on the ground. The soles are narrow. Five curved claws protrude outwards. The head is small and long and conical. A lingering thick fur tail lags behind.
The color patterns of the coat vary. A black base with a white stripe from head to shoulders and along the back and tail is the common denominator. Some have a white spot on the chest and others have stripes throughout their limbs. Cream and brown colored mutations are possible. Selective breeding has produced various shades in apricot, albino, white, lavender champagne, mahogany and black.
Striped skunks have multiple partners and breed once a year. The mating season occurs from late winter to mid spring. Males travel great distances to find a compatible female. Up to two and a half miles are traversed each night. A single male will defend his chosen females for a period of thirty-five days. The male leaves to rebuild his fat reserves. The female stays hidden in their den.
Gestation lasts for two to three months. Kits are born by June. Litters contain two to twelve young. The most on record was eighteen and spotted in Pennsylvania. The kits are born blind and with little fur. They all weigh under forty grams. Their eyes open after three weeks. They feed alone before their second month. Independence is achieved two weeks later. Their musk is undeveloped. Thirty milliliters will mature later and provide a chemical defense against predators. The odorous thiols can disperse for several meters. It causes a burning sensation if it touches the eyes. It smells pretty bad too.
Striped Skunk Subspecies
|Mephitis. m. avia||Illinois skunk (Illinois, Iowa and Indiana)|
|Mephitis. m. elongata||Florida skunk (Florida to North Carolina and West Virginia)|
|Mephitis. m. estor||Arizona skunk (Arizona, New Mexico, California and Mexico)|
|Mephitis. m. holzneri||Southern California skunk (California)|
|Mephitis. m. hudsonica||Northern plains skunk (Canada, Colorado, Nebraska and Minnesota)|
|Mephitis. m. major||Great Basin skunk (Oregon, California, Nevada and Utah)|
|Mephitis. m. mephitis||Canada skunk (Canada)|
|Mephitis. m. mesomelas||Louisiana skunk (Mississippi Valley)|
|Mephitis. m. nigra||Eastern skunk (New England and Atlantic states)|
|Mephitis. m. notata||Cascade Mountains skunk (Washington and Oregon)|
|Mephitis. m. occidentalis||California skunk (California and Oregon)|
|Mephitis. m. spissigrada||Puget Sound skunk (Washington and Oregon)|
|Mephitis. m. varians||Texas long-tailed skunk (Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Mexico)|
They are nice looking animals but I quietly run away when one crosses my path. I’ve smelled their musk from a distance several times and I don’t want it on me. I guess I do what the potential predators do (except the starving ones).
I think we all do! It is certainly a dangerous game getting too close!
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