About Skunks

What Skunks Look Like

Skunks are related to weasels, badgers, otters, minks and ferrets, a family of economically important furbearers. Two species of skunk are most common in the United States. The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is about the size of a cat (20 to 30 inches long), and weighs 3-1/2 to 10 pounds. Our most familiar skunk has shiny black fur with two broad white stripes down its back. The front of the face bears a distinctive white “blaze.” The spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is about the size of a large rat (14 to 22 inches long) and weighs ¾ to 2-3/4 pounds. It occurs in most of the country except for the eastern seaboard and the Northeastern and Great Lakes states. Instead of a broad dorsal stripe, this skunk features a random pattern of 4 broken white stripes and a white spot under each ear. The hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) lives in the Southwest. It is all white above and black beneath, and its nose is fleshy like a hog’s snout. Skunks live in dens in old burrows, under rockpiles or other sheltered places, where they raise 5 to 7 young a year.
Supremely confident in their chemical weaponry, skunks are slow to anger and fearless to a fault. The skunk’s powerful scent glands can discharge a strong spray of acrid fluid 8 to 12 feet away. The unbelievable smell comes from sulfur compounds such as N-butylmercaptan. Usually, the striped skunk gives fair warning before he sprays, preferring to bluff an attacker first. He will drum his forefeet on the ground, emit a low snarl or growl, arch the back like a cat, and raise the tail, the better to show off its black and white warning coloration. If this fails, he spins around and fires. A spotted skunk’s warning display is a gymnastic tour de force; he makes himself appear larger by facing the enemy and doing a handstand. If necessary, he can spray the attacker while in this position.

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