Mammals: Striped Skunk

The Striped Skunk (Mustela mephitis) is one of the most diverse members of the weasel family. Quite often in the natural world, we see some animals as being relatively common, and take for granted we know most of what there is to know about these creatures. But like everything out there in nature, we can always learn more! It takes many years of studying a small area of the Rocky Mountains to even begin to...  

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understand the dynamics of nature, the interactions of one species with other members of the same species, and the predator/prey relationships. It would take lifetimes to have a really good grip on one critter and its habitat in one 50-square mile area.

Let's take a look at the skunk’s habitat. Habitats range from agricultural lands to rural outskirts of cities and towns. The diversified habitats include semi open country, mixed woods, brushland, wetlands, and open prairie. Although the striped skunk lives in and near wetlands like many other weasels, they rarely will stay where the water table is too high for making ground dens.

A medium-sized predator like the striped skunk has many food source options and like most weasel family members can be quite tenacious. At an approximate weight of 5-15 pounds and an average length of 25-inches, this animal is about the size of an average house cat, but is armed to the teeth. That includes its sharp canines, long claws, low to the ground defensible body posture, and when frightened or threatened, it can spray a long lasting and strong musk produced by anal scent glands. The sounds that animals make when they are threatened can be very disarming, and the skunk is no exception.

The striped skunk’s diet is also very diverse. This weasel is described as an opportunistic, omnivorous, predatory feeder. So briefly, this means it has many opportunities to feed and takes advantage of them; it eats both plant and animal materials; and it preys upon other animals. Diet varies according to season and geographic areas, as well as micro-habitats. Skunks can be expert at stealing, opening and eating duck eggs, and might consume eggs, insects, mice, berries and carrion all in a day. It is generally believed that during winter, if food is scarce or unavailable, skunks will spend extended periods of time in their dens.

The tracks of the striped skunk register slightly pigeon toed, show five toes (sometimes only four) and generally show a 1-3-1 toe pattern. The claws of the front feet are especially long, and the rear foot although usually only 2-3 inches long can often resemble a human baby’s foot in soft mud. The contrasting black body with narrow white stripes on the middle of the forehead, the broad white area on the nape of the neck that usually divides into a V at the shoulders and extends to the rump and tail on each side is quite striking.

Skunks are mostly nocturnal and are not actually true hibernators. They use ground burrows, abandoned building foundations, root wads, small caves, wood or rock piles and hollow logs for denning sites. They will also take over dens created by other animals. Mating occurs during February through April. Gestation period may last an average of 68-days, and they may exhibit delayed implantation similar to other weasels and bears. The young are born during May or June, and 4-7 young are the usual litter size.

So while you’re exploring Kootenai Country Montana, keep your nose in the wind and an eye out for the Striped Skunk! For it is good for us humans to learn more about these beautiful creatures and to respect them all.

(Author’s ref.note: Furbearing Mammals - Alt and Frisina)