Skunks

Latin Names

Interestingly, Skunks are members of the weasel family. There are several species in the United States, but there are only two of real significance: the striped skunk (Mephitus mephitis) and the spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius). These are considered to be the most common and troublesome of the relatives.

Diet

Skunks can be both a blessing and a curse. They are mostly carnivorous and feed on rodents considered harmful to humans like moles, shrews, ground squirrels, rats, mice, and other small mammals.

Also, they help keep insect populations low through their affinity for crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, and other types of insect larvae.

While helping control unwanted populations, skunks are known to do harm to property and domestic animal populations, too. If available, skunks will feed on poultry and their eggs. Also, they eat garden vegetables, fruit, damage lawns when foraging for insects, and damage beehives (eating adult and larval bees in the process).

Habitat

Skunks like digging under foundations to take refuge beneath homes and in other, less trafficked buildings. They also will burrow under low decks. Skunks carry serious health concerns, including rabies.

Defense Mechanisms

Skunks carry a noteworthy reputation because of their well-storied defense mechanism. Fortunately, they have distinct markings and are easy to spot, making recognition and avoidance easier.

The skunk odor is a repellent of predators. They have two internal glands at the base of the tail which can produce a thick, volatile, oily liquid containing sulfur compounds. Before discharging, the skunks will do their own version of a war dance to scare away the potential threat. Once the tail is raised, be on alert.

The fluid can be discharged up to 20 feet with a high accuracy up to 10 feet. The skunk can fire multiple times when needed. If any gets into the eyes of humans or pets, pain and temporary blindness can occur.

Habits

Skunks are mostly active in warmer months. They don’t actually hibernate, but will remain inactive in their dens for days to weeks during extreme cold. They are nocturnal.

Reproduction

Skunks typically mate in late winter, and the young are born from mid-spring to mid-summer. The spotted skunk may have two litters during the year. The young don’t have long to learn from their parents. They are out of the den by fall and on their own.

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