Skunk

Skunks are small-bodied mammals that originated from the family Mephitidae. They are endemic to North and South America. They are related to polecats and other members from the weasel family. However, their closest relative is the stink badger.

Certain animals are known for a peculiar ability, and as for the skunk, it’s the ability to spray a pungent and repulsive smell.

Skunks are of various species, and they all vary in appearance, particularly in colour. They range from black & white to brown, cream and ginger coloured.

They are among the major predators of the honeybee. They can hunt the bees safely because their fur is thick enough to protect them from stings.

They hunt them by disturbing the entrance of the beehive and then eat the soldier bees that come out to investigate.

During the summer, the skunks also prey on hornets. This occurs after the closely packed soil under the oak trees dries and cracks open. This location is where the hornets build their nest under the ground.

Their family has three genus which includes the Conepatus, Mephitis and Spilogale.

Table of Contents

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
SuperfamilyMusteloidea
FamilyMephitidae
Scientific nameMephitis mephitis

Size and Description

The various species of skunks differ in size from a range of about 15 to 36 inches in length. They weigh within a range of 500 grams to 8 kilograms.

They have a slightly long body with slightly stout and powerful legs. These legs are complemented by lengthy front claws which they utilize for digging, and each foot has five toes.

Skunks are most commonly black and white in colour, but there are also brown, grey and other colours mentioned earlier. Right from birth, all skunks have stripes on their bodies.

They have a particular thick white stripe that runs across their backs and tails. Some skunks are also stripped down to their legs as well.

Habits

Skunks are lone creatures when it isn’t their breeding season, and they are also active whenever the sun is not up (dawn or dusk).

They have communal dens, where they gather in mass for warmth in colder territories. When the sun is up, they mostly take shelter in their burrows made with their strong claws.

Both sexes inhabit overlapping territories for a greater part of the year. Mostly 2 to 4 kilometres are occupied by females, and up to 20 kilometres is inhabited by the males.

Though the skunks do not actually hibernate by default, they can take shelter in their dens for a long period of time. Despite not being true hibernators, they can stay dormant while seldom feeding.

All through the winter season, several female skunks (as many as 12) clusters together in a den. The males stay solitary, and most times, the same den is used. Their greatly flawed vision is compensated for by an ultra-sharp sense of hearing and smell.

Skunks are unable to see objects that are more than a 10 feet distance from them. This flaw makes them very vulnerable to road traffic and results in their death.

Their lifespan is very short; in the wild, they can live as long as seven years. However, a lot of them do not live beyond a year.

Captive skunks can live as long as ten years. They are infamous for the vile odour that emanates from their anal scent glands. This is their weapon of defence against intruders and predators.

They have a gland on each side of their anus; these glands are what produces the spray. The skunk’s spray is a mixture of sulfuric chemicals such as thiols. This spray is so pungent that it is capable of fending off predators such as the bear.

These scent glands have muscles in close proximity; they enable the skunks to spray with an almost precise degree of accuracy.

They can spray as far as 3 metres, and this spray can cause temporary blindness as well as irritation. The spray is odorous enough to be perceived by a human nose from a distance of roughly 5 kilometres.

Diet

Skunks are omnivores, and they feed on food sourced from both plants and animals. Their diets vary with the seasons.

They feed on larvae, insects, rodents, grubs, moles, eggs, frogs, snakes, salamanders, birds and earthworms. For plant-sourced foods, they feed on roots, grasses, leaves, berries, nuts and even fungi.

Skunks that live in human settlements feed on garbage disposed of by humans. In rare cases, they scavenge on carcasses from birds and rodents. Captive skunks also feed on pet food as well. Skunks are fond of digging holes in the ground to fish out worms and grubs.

Habitat

Wild skunks inhabit forest edges, grasslands, deserts and woodlands. They can also live in abandoned buildings, burrows, within hollow logs and under big rocks. Captive skunks can be found in human settlements as pets.

Reproduction

Skunks breed during the early part of the spring season, and they are polygynous in nature. This means that successful males are allowed to mate with more females.

The gestation period lasts for about 66 days, and the mother skunk has a placenta. They usually give birth in May, and their litter normally has about 4 to 7 kits.

Kits (baby skunks) are born deaf and blind but already coated with soft fur. Their eyes are opened after an estimated three weeks, and they stop suckling at about two months of age.

The young skunks live with their mother till they are sexually mature and ready to mate. This usually happens when they are approaching one year of age. The male skunks play no role in the upbringing of its kits.

The mother skunk is very protective of her offsprings and sprays at any sign of danger.

Conservation status

All the species of skunks excluding the pygmy spotted skunks are listed as “Least Concern”. The excluded specie is tagged “Vulnerable” because of loss of its population. The loss is estimated to be over 30% in the past 90 years.

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