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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Striped Skunk
Order Carnivora : Family Mustelidae : Mephitis mephitis (Schreber)

Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis).  Note varying patterns.  Photo by D.W. Lay.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.

Species distribution mapDistribution 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 balance.

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 their mother.

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 behavior.

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.