Featured Animal: February 2015
The striped skunk is one of the more familiar members of the weasel family, because of its famous odor. The striped skunk is characterized by its black fur and lateral white stripes that run down the length of its back. This skunk is about the size of a house cat, and weighs around 8 lbs.
Striped skunks are common in rural and urban landscapes, and won’t hesitate to use buildings as shelter if there is food nearby. Their ability to create a noxious scent, in addition to their habitat of digging up lawns, usually make them an unwanted tenant of backyards.
Skunks use their musk as protection from potential predators. They can hit a target accurately up to 6 ft., but their smell can be detected up to 0.5 miles!(McDonald 2006). They can express their scent glands 4-5 times before it empties; however, they are usually careful not to waste all available musk on one potential predator.
Striped skunks are common throughout the United States and Canada, and can be found in northern Mexico. They prefer clearings, pastures, and open areas, although they can be found using the edges of forest for cover. In the Western U. S., they establish dens in burrows in the ground, and will not hesitate to establish dens under sheds and residential homes.
Striped skunks are omnivores. They eat plant materials (roots, tubers, and berries) about as much as animal foods through the fall and winter. However, when large insects (e.g. grasshoppers) and grubs are present, they prefer them. Additionally, skunks can eat mice, rats, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and eggs whenever available.
Mating and Rearing
Striped skunks are usually solitary animals. However, they may hibernate in small groups in the northern latitudes. Striped skunks mate in February – March, with 3-9 young born in April – May. The young are capable of surviving on their own by August.
Striped skunks are a known vector of rabies. The virus is present in their saliva, and transmitted through a bite.
Most conflict with skunks occurs when skunks dig up lawns looking for grubs or take up residence in a house, barn, garage, etc. However, they have also been known to raid chicken coops. Open garbage or compost can attract skunks to residential area, and removing access to these can diminish a yard’s attraction. Damage to lawns consists of irregular cone-shaped holes in the ground; however it is hard to distinguish these characteristics from those of dogs. Finally, if a skunk enters a chicken coop, they will usually eat the eggs, and occasionally attack the chickens. This differentiates them from other carnivores, which will also kill the poultry.
There are many ways to manage skunks and skunk damage. These range from exclusion and habitat modification to toxicants, trapping and shooting. A good reference can be found at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.