||The Mammals of Texas -
Carnivora : Family Mustelidae :
Mephitis mephitis (Schreber)
Description. A medium-sized, stout-bodied
skunk with two white stripes on sides of back that join
each other in the neck region and extend onto the head
anteriorly and onto each side of the tail posteriorly
(note varying patterns in photo at right); tip of tail
black; two large scent glands, one on each side of the
anus, produce the characteristic skunk musk; ears short,
rounded; eyes small; five toes on each foot, front ones
armed with long claws; hind feet with heel almost in
contact with ground; tail long and bushy; pelage long,
coarse and oily. Dental formula as in the spotted skunk. Sexes colored alike, but males usually larger
than females. External measurements average: (males),
total length, 680 mm; tail, 250 mm; hind foot, 90 mm;
(females), 610-225-65 mm. Weight, 1.4-6.6 kg, depending
on age and amount of fat.
Distribution in Texas. Statewide.
Habits. Striped skunks are
inhabitants of wooded or brushy areas and their
associated farmlands. Rocky defiles and outcrops are
favored refuge sites, but when these are absent the
skunks seek out the burrows of armadillos, foxes, and
other animals. In central Texas, favored refuge sites are
under large boulders.
These skunks are largely nocturnal and
seldom venture forth until late in the day; they retire
to their hideouts early in the morning. One of us (Davis)
has seen striped skunks abroad in midday only twice, and
in each instance a female was trailing her family of
third-grown youngsters in single file across a meadow to
a patch of woodland beyond.
In late fall they become exceedingly
fat. In Texas, they are abroad throughout the year and
seemingly more active in winter than in the heat of
summer. They are social creatures; often several
individuals occupy a well-situated winter den. J.D.
Bankston of Mason, Texas informed us that he removed as
many as seven striped skunks from one winter den and that
one of his neighbors found 10 in one den in December.
These may have constituted family groups.
Striped skunks are not choosy in their
food habits. In Texas, their seasonal food, as judged
from the analyses of 79 viscera, is as follows (expressed
in percentages): Fall insects, 76; arachnids, 24.
Winter insects, 52.3; arachnids, 5.3; reptiles,
1.6; small mammals, 18.3; vegetation, 22; birds and
millipedes making up the balance. Spring insects,
96; reptiles, 1.6; small mammals, 2; vegetation and small
birds making up the balance. Summer insects, 88;
arachnids, 4; reptiles, 1.5; small birds, 3.5;
centipedes, small mammals, and vegetation making up the
Breeding begins in February or March.
After a gestation period of about 63 days, the three to
seven (average, five) young are born. In Texas, most of
the young appear in the first half of May. There is some
evidence that two litters may be born to certain females,
but one litter seems to be the general rule. The nursery
is a cavity under a rock, a burrow, or a thicket of
cactus or other protective vegetation. Usually the mother
builds a nest of dried grasses and weed stems for the
blind, helpless young. The young remain in the nest until
their eyes are open and they are strong enough to follow
Striped skunks have few natural
enemies. Owl, hawks, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and dogs
may occasionally take one, but most predators are
repulsed by the odor of their musk. Striped skunks are
highly susceptible to being struck by vehicles, and
road-killed animals are commonly seen along highways
throughout Texas. Individuals seldom live more than two
years in the wild.
When disturbed or startled, skunks
utter a peculiar purring sound and often growl when
attacked by man. They typically express their anger by
rising upon their hind feet, lurching forward, stamping
both front feet, and at the same time clicking their
teeth. The expelling of musk generally follows this
Their fur is the most valuable of all
the skunks. They are easily reared on fur farms, but the
relatively low value of their pelts does not make such a
practice economically worthwhile.
Photo credit: D. W. Lay.