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Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis


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Striped Skunk with young

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Family: Mephitidae, Skunks view all from this family

Description Unmistakable and well known due to unique color pattern, and distinctive odor. Dorsal stripes converge to a V at the nape. A pair of dorsal stripes typically mark the back, but these may be so variable in size and shape that skunks look all white, all black, or spotted. The amount of white in the tail is similarly variable. Fur is coarse. Females are 15% smaller than males.

Dimensions 57-80cm, 18-39cm, 1.2-6.3kg

Warning The Striped Skunk is currently the chief carrier of rabies in the U.S. Unusual behavior can be a sign that the animal is infected. As skunks are usually out at night, one active in the daytime could well be rabid. All skunks are highly developed for defense and can spray their foul-smelling musk distances of up to 15 feet. Besides its overpowering odor, the musk can burn the eyes and cause momentary loss of vision. Sudden movement, noise, or a close approach can trigger the spray, and the Striped Skunk can spray even when held aloft by the tail. Ammonia or tomato juice can be used to remove the odor; carbolic soap and water are best for washing skin.

Breeding Breeding season is February-March, typically resulting in a seasonal peak of activity that can be seen and smelled by people. Litters of 1-10 are born 59-77 days later. Young can emit musk as young as 8 days. They are weaned at 2 months, and overwinter mortality of yearlings is high.

Habitat Canyons & caves, Cities, suburbs & towns, Deserts, Forests & woodlands, Grasslands & prairies, Meadows & fields, Scrub, shrub & brushlands

Range Plains, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Florida, Texas, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada

Discussion Typically raises tail and stomps front feet before spraying. They can shoot the spray accurately to 4m several times in quick succession. The noxious odor is reflected in the scientific name “Mephitis,” which means bad odor. Holding the animal off the ground by the tail to prevent it spraying is an old wives tale, disproven by generations of daring young naturalists. Summer dens are in rock piles or hollow logs, and winter dens are more substantial underground burrows, often originally excavated by woodchucks or badgers. Winter dens may be occupied by multiple animals. Nocturnal hunter of insects, rabbits, birds and eggs, carrion, fruit, and small vertebrates in all habitat types except most arid, and favors woodlands, fields, agricultural areas, and human neighborhoods.