The striped skunk is a well known mammal found throughout Ohio. As a member of the weasel family, it has a small triangular head, beady eyes and little ears. Its legs are short with webbed toes and claws used for digging. The striped skunk’s fur is long and black, with white on the top of the head, and two white lines forming a “V” across the back from the shoulder to the base of the tail. The bold markings warn predators to stay away. A striped skunk is about the size of a small housecat; adults are about 2 to 3 feet long from head to tail and can weigh up to ten pounds.
Even if you have never seen a skunk, your nose knows when a skunk has been around. The striped skunk’s trademark scent comes from sulfur compounds in two musk glands by the skunk’s hind quarters. The striped skunk’s first defense is its bold markings. Defensive behaviors - such as fluffing its fur, stomping on the ground with its front feet, and growling – serve as warnings when the animal feels threatened. They are not aggressive and will not spray unless severely provoked. Spraying of musk does not come without warning or cause, but when it does it is very precise. Striped skunks can spray victims accurately and effectively up to 15 feet. The smell can carry up to a mile!
Striped skunks sleep during the day, and make their dens in shallow burrows or hollow logs. They are capable of burrowing a den a foot or so underground with a well-hidden entrance, but will usually den in a burrow abandoned by another animal. They like warm, dry, dark, and defensible spots, such as natural rock cavities and under stone walls or buildings.
During the winter the striped skunk does not hibernate but instead stays in its den until spring-time. The striped skunk is not a social animal. The male always dens by himself, although the female may den with other females during the winter.
Striped skunks mate in late February and March. Litters of one to ten youngsters are born from late April to early June. The youngsters are born pink-skinned and blind. By the second week they develop their fur and on the third week they can open their eyes. After less than a month the babies have mature spray glands to defend themselves. During the sixth week the babies will be fully weaned and able to go out with their mother on nightly forages. Mother and babies will remain a family until the next spring when the youngsters go off on their own. Adult striped skunks in the wild may live to be 3 to 6 years old.
Striped skunks wake up and begin foraging at sunset. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat plants and other animals. Their diet includes insects, fruits, nuts, small rodents, frogs, eggs and birds. Skunks help keep the rodent population down, and about 70% of their diet includes insects considered harmful to humans, such as the black widow spider. Because the skunk is a scavenging meat eater, it helps keep parks, roads, and neighborhoods clean.
The skunk’s diet can be trashy, too. They are happy to eat garbage and they love human food, so skunks often prowl around campgrounds and picnic areas at night. Skunks especially like to visit campfires and beg for snacks. Never feed a skunk, and be sure to put trash in a container with a tight fitting lid, and bring food indoors at night. If a skunk still pays a visit, don’t panic. Sit still, keep your voice low, and leave the skunk alone. If it does not find food quickly, it will leave on its own and look for munchies somewhere else.
- The skunk is also known by other names such as “pole cat”, “smelly cat”, and “stinky cat”.
- The great horned owl and other large birds of prey are the only predators that fearlessly hunt for skunks.
- Skunks don’t really like their own perfume. They are not immune to their spray, and will avoid spats with other skunks.
- The striped skunk’s musk, once its odor is removed, is used as a perfume base because of its clinging quality.
- Each striped skunk has a unique stripe pattern.
- To see the unique striped skunk from afar, go outside and visit your local Ohio state park!
Photos from Left to Right: Up-close mug image of a striped skunk • Watch out! A striped skunk in a defense pose • A line up of skunks, sciencecastle.com • A litter of baby striped skunks • A juvenile striped skunk, courtesy of Bob Dodd