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Skunks are mostly known for their horrible odor, which is produced by a highly developed anal gland. It is used to deter their enemies. Most of the time a skunk will not discharge its foul scent unless it feels threatened. In fact, they are docile.
A striped skunk has black fur with two white stripes running down its back. Also called a polecat, it is about the size of a domesticated cat. Sometimes several families of skunk will live together. Some skunks will dig their own burrows, while others share burrows dug by other animals, such as raccoons, woodchucks, or foxes. Skunks are also found under buildings, logs, and woodpiles.
The skunk lives in woodlands and grasslands all across the United States and Canada. Mostly nocturnal, it has few enemies except the great horned owl. It is omnivorous, feeding mainly on insects, but its diet also includes mice, frogs, small birds, and eggs. It also uses its long claws to dig up grubs, earthworms, roots, fungi, nuts, and fruit. The skunk hunts its food by scent, sniffing along the ground.
The skunk warns its enemy by pounding its front paws on the ground. If that doesn’t work, it turns backwards and sprays a fine mist very accurately up to 12 feet (3.7 m). It can produce this spray up to eight times during an encounter. The spray can cause temporary blindness, and the odor can be detected a half-mile (805 m) away. A predator who is unfortunate enough to be sprayed by the skunk immediately backs off. The offensive scent lingers for weeks as a potent reminder to leave that particular prey alone.
Its mating season runs from February through March. After a gestation period of 50 days, the female has between five to eight babies called kits. The mother will feed her young for about eight weeks until they can hunt for themselves. They stay with their mother until the next mating season and will reach maturity in about 11 months.
Skunks can be a problem for home dwellers in the country or city if they decide to live beneath a building. Many more skunks are hit and killed by cars than are hunted. Skunks carry rabies and can bite and scratch as well as spray.
Carnivora • Mustelidae • Mephitus mephitus
Weight: 2.6–11.7 pounds (1.2–5.3 kg)
Length: 18 inches (45 cm)
Life Span: 7–9 years
Special Design Feature: The skunk’s spray can be very accurate up to 12 feet (3.7 m) away and the skunk can continue to spray up to eight times.
Did You Know? The skunk lives in burrows that it shares with the animal that actually dug the burrow. They also like to live under buildings, logs, and woodpiles.