striped skunk

(Mephitis mephitis)

Conservation Status
striped skunk
Photo by Luciearl
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Striped skunk is a common, widely recognized, medium-sized mammal. Average size and weight measurements vary greatly in published literature, possibly due in part to geographic variation among the 13 recognized subspecies. Adults are 20 to 30 long, including the tail, and weigh 4 to 10 pounds. Males are about 10% larger than females and may weigh up to 12 pounds just before denning for the winter.

The body is stout and shaped somewhat like a cat. The fur (pelage) is black conspicuous white markings. There is a white stripe on the back (dorsum) that splits into a V-shape at the shoulders and continues as two stripes to the rump. The width of the white area varies and some individuals are mostly black. Two highly developed scent glands on either side of the anus are modified for defense. They each contain about ½ ounce of yellowish musk. The musk contains seven sulfur compounds (thiols), is highly odoriferous, and causes nausea and burning in the eyes of predators.

The tail is bushy and 8½ to 11 long. On some individuals the dorsal stripes continue unbroken along the edges of the tail to the tip. On others, the tail is mostly black but there are usually at least some white hairs on the edge of the tail.

The legs are short and stout. The feet are small. The front feet have five long curved claws modified for digging. The claws on the hind feet are shorter and straighter.

The head is small and triangular. There is a thin white stripe on the center of the snout and forehead, and a prominent white patch on the nape of the neck. The ears are short. The eyes are black. The jaws hold 34 teeth.




Total length: 20 to 30

Tail: 8½ to 11




The tracks of striped skunks are unusually small for an animal its size. The palm pads are continuous, not segmented. The long nails of the forefeet leave impressions well ahead of the toe pads. The trails are in a 2-2 pattern, with the hind foot just ahead of the front foot.


Similar Species

  Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is smaller and more slender. Its shape is more like a weasel. It has four narrow white stripes that break into spots on the hindquarters.  

A variety of habitats, including woodland openings, prairies, ravines, suburban areas, and especially cultivated areas.




Striped skunk is solitary and nocturnal. In the summer they spend the day alone in an above-ground den in a hollow log or tree, a rock or brush pile, or under a building. In colder months they use an underground den, usually one dug and abandoned by another animal.

When threatened, the skunk will face the opponent, arch its back, raise its tail, hiss, and stomp the ground with its forelegs. If these warnings prove insufficient, the skunk will bend its body around so that both the hindquarters and the head are facing the opponent and spray. The musk can be sprayed with high accuracy up to 10, with less accuracy up to 15. The mist thrown off the spray travels much farther.




6 to 7 years


Life Cycle


There is just one litter per year. Breeding takes place in late February or March. Gestation takes 59 to 77 days. A litter of usually 4 to 7 young (kits) is born about mid-May to early June. The kits are weaned in 42 to 56 days and leave the den at age 2½ to 3 months, but remain with the mother until age 6 to 12 months. Most kits die in their first year from predation or disease. Those that survive can live up to 6 or 7 years.

Around mid-November they enter an underground den to spend the winter. They do not hibernate. They spend the winter inside the den, often in groups of two or more females and sometimes a single male. During this time they enter into a state of low metabolic activity and low body temperature to conserve energy, rarely if ever emerging to forage. Both sexes lose about half of their body mass during the winter due to fat metabolization.


Disease Vector


Striped skunk is an important vector of the rabies virus, mostly in corn-producing areas of the state. Rabies is more common in striped skunk than in any other mammal in Minnesota.




Mostly insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and caterpillars, but also small mammals, bird eggs and chicks, fruits, and human garbage.


Distribution Map



7, 15, 24, 29, 76.




Common and widespread

  Class Mammalia (mammals)  
  Subclass Theria  
  Infraclass Eutheria (placental mammals)  
  Magnorder Boreoeutheria  
  Superorder Laurasiatheria (ungulates, carnivorans, and allies)  
  Order Carnivora (carnivorans)  
  Suborder Caniformia (dog-like carnivores)  


Mephitidae (skunks)  


Mephitis (hooded skunks, striped skunks)  

Subordinate Taxa


Arizona skunk (Mephitis mephitis estor)

California skunk (Mephitis mephitis occidentalis)

Canada skunk (Mephitis mephitis mephitis)

Cascade skunk (Mephitis mephitis notata)

eastern skunk (Mephitis mephitis nigra)

Florida skunk (Mephitis mephitis elongata)

Great Basin skunk (Mephitis mephitis major)

Illinois skunk (Mephitis mephitis avia)

Long-tailed Texas skunk (Mephitis mephitis varians)

Louisiana skunk (Mephitis mephitis mesomelas)

Northern Plains skunk (Mephitis mephitis hudsonica)

Puget Sound skunk (Mephitis mephitis spissigrada)

Southern California skunk (Mephitis mephitis holzneri)






Common Names


striped skunk










The coat of a mammal, consisting of fur, wool, or hair, and including a soft undercoat and stiff guard hairs.

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With the drought, intense heat of the past summer, I found many animals going down to the lake for a drink of water.

  striped skunk  








Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  NATURE | Is That Skunk? | Baby Skunks | PBS

Uploaded on Jan 20, 2009

See the full episode at

Jerry Dragoo shows off some cute skunk kits. Newborn skunk babies have markings on naked skin, which will later be replaced by fur in the same pattern. Skunk kits are able to spray from birth, but the resulting chemical plume is not nearly as strong as that of an adult.

Is That Skunk? aired on PBS Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 8 p.m. as part of the 28th season of the Peabody and Emmy award-winning series produced by Thirteen in association with WNET.ORG for PBS. Major support provided by Canon U.S.A. Inc. For more information, visit

  North American Striped Skunk
John Czere

Published on Jun 4, 2012

Hands On Wildlife Safari host Ryan Brown shows a Florida Skunk.

  Striped Skunk
Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Published on Jul 29, 2015

This Striped Skunk was using its powerful claws and paws to dig through the ground for grubs. All of the heavy rain that saturated the earth across the local area and much of the Northeast as a whole in June created ideal conditions for grubs to come to the surface. This also makes it easier for the skunk to dig into the ground for a tasty treat…many, many tasty treats. Skunks are beneficial creatures to have in your yard (so long as you are not interacting with them, like any wild animal) as they will eat a strong supply of rodents, eliminating pests for the home and vectors for disease.

  How skunks spray
lansingwbu's channel

Uploaded on Dec 13, 2011

How skunks spray

Full video at

Is That Skunk? paints a complete portrait of the misunderstood skunk family, Mephitidae, and the people who love them.

  Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis

Uploaded on Jan 27, 2009

A Striped Skunk in Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY




Visitor Sightings

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Location: Fairview Twp, Cass County

With the drought, intense heat of the past summer, I found many animals going down to the lake for a drink of water.

striped skunk





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