Measurement: Size: 52-68 cm (20-27 in) Weight: 1.4-4.5 kg (3-10 lbs)
Description: Skunks need little introduction. Like the raccoon, their appearance has been immortalized through countless television shows and cartoons. They are a cat-sized animal with a black coat, a long, bush tail and a distinctive white stripe that runs from the head, down each side and up the tail. The tail is often held erect. Should you misidentify the skunk, your mistake may quickly become evident as they spray you with a noxious, smelly oil from their grape-sized anal glands. The smell is terrible, and can be virtually impossible to wash off. It serves to punish predators that choose to ignore the warning markings of its colour pattern.
The striped skunk is found across much of Canada and the entire United States. It is rarely seen through much of the Canadian Rockies though it becomes more common south of the Crowsnest Pass and into the American Rockies.
Skunks have a highly developed sense of smell, and they use this to sniff out insects, beehives, nests and eggs. They are omnivorous though and will take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves, feeding upon small mammals, carrion, and even plants, berries and nuts.
They are particularly adept at invading bee, wasp and hornet nests. As they attach the nest, the wasps emerge and the skunk squishes them in its palms before shoving them into its mouth. This can make them a problem for bee keepers.
Skunks do not have many enemies other than man, largely because of their effective defenses. Great horned owls do hunt skunks, dropping silently from above. In addition, the occasional coyote, wolf, cougar and lynx may try their luck.
Skunks breed in the spring, giving birth 59-77 days later (there may be some delay in implantation). Litter sizes vary between one and ten kits. The kits only weigh 15 grams at birth and are blind and almost hairless. They remain in the den for approximately seven weeks and their eyes open after 17-21 days. The young stay with their mother throughout the summer. Some may disperse in the fall, while others may den with their mother over the winter.
Notes: Skunks do not hibernate, but they do disappear into plant-lined dens for the winter. Most of these dens are abandoned dens of ground squirrels, or other mammals. They are not above denning under an inviting front porch though, and their adaptability has seen them thrive in the presence of humans. There have been records of as many as 20 skunks denning together, but the numbers are usually much smaller. They remain in the dens through most of the winter in a state of torpor (not true hibernation). They emerge with the warmth of spring and may also emerge periodically during warm winter spells.
While skunks are a largely beneficial animal, thriving on insect pests, they are also a major carrier of rabies in North America. They should not be approached, and should you be bitten, see a doctor immediately. Skunks are normally very timid, but rabid animals may be very bold and fearless. Rabies is not a great concern in the Canadian Rockies, but becomes more critical throughout the warmer US Rockies.
Hinterland Who's Who - Striped Skunk
Striped Skunk sightings
a guide to help you spot some
All Material © Ward Cameron 2005