The striped skunk is well known for the foul-smelling spray it produces to ward off attackers. This spray comes out of two tiny apertures inside the anus. The discharge, known as musk, is squirted in spray form or as a directed arc of droplets. It does not use its foul-smelling secretions against rival skunks, only against enemies. The fluid is an effective weapon because the smell temporarily stops the victims breathing.
The skunk will only spray when it has exhausted all other defensive tactics. These strategies include arching its back, holding its tail erect and stamping its feet. If these fail, the skunk will twist its body into a U-shape -so that its head and tail are facing the attacker - and release its musk. The musk, which can be smelled by humans over a mile away, causes discomfort to the eyes of an enemy. This will sting painfully if it enters the eyes, allowing the skunk to escape to the safety of its burrow. Skunks are able to spray over a distance of up to 3.7 m (12 ft).
Striped skunks are most active at night, foraging for food under the cover of thick vegetation. They spend the day in sheltered places, such as disused burrows. During the winter, skunks hibernate in their dens, staying underground for between two and three months. Mating takes place in springtime. Litters of up to ten young are born in summer. The hooded skunk, M. macroum, is a similar and closely related species; the black and white markings of both skunks are highly variable and constitute a warning display.
Distribution: Occurs widely across North America, extending from the southern half of Canada right down across the USA to Mexico; it can be found throughout this entire region.
Habitat: Woods, grasslands and deserts.
Weight: 1.25 - 6 kg (2.8 - 13 lb).
Length: 51 - 71 cm (20 - 28 in), including tail; up to 25cm (10 in) tall.
Maturity: About 2 years.
Gestation Period: 42 - 63 days.
Breeding: 5 - 6; weaning at around 42 days.
Food: Omnivorous, eating invertebrates and rodents, eggs, birds, fruit, nuts, vegetation and fish; also scavenges.
Lifespan: 6 - 8 years in the wild; up to 15 in captivity.
Broad white stripes run down each side of the body from the head; the central area is black.
The tail is very bushy, with white fur. Exact patterning depends on the individual.
The short legs end in webbed toes, equipped with powerful claws.
The head is triangular and covered with short hair, with a white stripe between the eyes.
The skunk's diet changes with the seasons, and is also influenced by its locality.
There are 7 species of hog-nosed skunk, all found in the southern USA and S. America.
The common name derives from the animal's long piglike snout, which it uses to root in the soil for insects and grubs. It will also eat snakes, small mammals and fruit.
The hog-nosed skunk makes its dens in rocky places or abandoned burrows. The female produces a litter of 2 to 5 young each year.
Range: S. USA to Nicaragua.
Habitat: Wooded and open land.
Size: Body: 13 3/4 - 19 in (35 - 48 cm); Tail: 6 1/2 - 12 in (17 - 31 cm).
Western Spotted Skunk
The white stripes and spots of the western spotted skunk are infinitely variable - no two animals have quite the same markings. A nocturnal, mainly terrestrial animal, this skunk usually makes its dens underground, but it is a good climber and sometimes shelters in trees. Rodents, birds, eggs, insects and fruit are the main items in its diet.
In the south of the spotted skunk’s range, young are born at any time of year, but farther north the 4 or 5 young are produced in spring. The gestation period is about 4 months.
Range: W. USA to C. Mexico.
Habitat: Wasteland, brush and wooded areas.
Size: Body: 9 - 13 1/2 in (23 - 34.5 cm); Tail: 4 1/4 - 8 1/2 in (11 - 22 cm).
Pygmy Spotted Skunk
The pygmy spotted skunk is restricted to a small area of woodland along Mexico's Pacific coast, where it lives in burrows or in trees. The black coat has white stripes over the back, which break into spots on the rump. Two large scent glands beside the anus spray a cloud of foulsmelling droplets to scare off predators. This is a tactic of last resort: the skunk's initial response to a threat is to lift its tail and make itself appear larger by raising its outer hairs. Then it stands on two legs and marches toward the attacker. Only if this is unsuccessful will it release the spray. Pygmy spotted skunks mate between February and March, and their young are born in May. They hunt at night, preying on smaller mammals, birds and reptiles. They also eat carrion, insects and fruits, and may climb trees to reach birds' eggs.
Size: 22 cm (8.5 in); 500 g (17.5 oz).
Eastern Spotted Skunk
They range as far west as Minnesota and south into Mexico, and are especially common in the mid-western states and the Appalachian Mountains. These skunks prefer woodland or other habitats with plenty of cover, such as areas of tall grass and even rocky regions. They dig burrows, possibly expanding a den abandoned by another animal. Several skunks will occupy each burrow. The eastern spotted skunk has short legs, so its body is held close to the ground. The head is small relative to the body size. This skunk is named after the spots on its head and rear.
Size: 29 cm (11.5 in); 600 g (21.25 oz).
Western Hog-nosed Skunk
These skunks live in the southwestern United States and Mexico, from Colorado to the highlands of northern Mexico. This species is most often found on low hills with brush or open woodland, but rarely ventures into exposed territory, such as desert, or more dense habitats, such as forest. The fur is dark brown with a stripe running from the head to the base of the bushy tail. The long snout has a naked patch that gives the species its common name.
Size: 55 cm (21.5 in); 1.9 kg (4.25 lb).
Eastern Hog-nosed Skunk
Less common than its western relative, this skunk is limited to southern Texas and eastern Mexico. This species is the largest of the North American skunks. It resembles the western hog-nosed skunk, but is about 25 per cent larger. The back stripe is slightly thinner and often does not reach the tail.
Size: 75 cm (29.5 in); 3.25 kg (7.25 lb).
Striped Hog-nosed Skunk
The striped hog-nosed skunk, or Amazonian skunk, ranges from S. Mexico to northern Peru and eastern Brazil. It occupies a variety of habitats during the dry season, but in the wet season it spends most of its time in deciduous mountain forests. Like other hog-nosed skunks, it has a bald patch on its snout. Two white stripes run from the nape of the neck along the black back.
Size: 57 cm (22.5 in); 1.6 kg (3.5 lb).