Skunks general information.

The oldest known fossil remains of a skunk is found in Germany (Europe) and has been dates back to 12 million years ago. Up to 1997 the skunks were considered as members of the weaselfamily (Mustelidae). But recent DNA research has put them in their own family, the skunks (Mephitidae). The family has 12 members devided in 4 genera.

Striped skunks (Mephitis);

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura)

Hog-nosed skunks (Conepatus);

American hog-nosed skunk(Conepatus leuconotus)

Striped hog-nosed skunk(Conepatus semistriatus)

Molina's hog-nosed skunk(Conepatus chinga)

Humboldt's hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus humboldtii)

Spotted skunks (Spilogale);

Western spotted skunk(Spilogale gracilis)

Eastern spotted skunk(Spilogale putorius)

Southern spotted skunk(Spilogale angustifrons)

Pymy spotted skunk(Spilogale pygmaea)

Stink badgers (Mydaus);

Javan stinkbadger (Mydaus javanensis)

Palawan stinkbadger (Mydaus marchei)

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is the best known skunk and also the most common skunk kept as a pet. This species natural range is almost completely in North America. They inhabit a variety of ecological niches; deserts, forests, prairies, agricultural landscapes and suburban sites. The striped skunks head to vent length is between 13 to 23.5 inches and weighs 4.4 to 13.3 lbs. The tail length is between 7 to 15.7 inches. In general males are a heavier build than females. The striped skunk has black fur with two wide white stripes running along the sides of the back. The shoulders and nape of the neck are also white. The amount of white varies per individual; some are almost entirely black but there are also near white animals. On the face there is a narrow white stripe. The tail is long haired and fluffy.

The markings of the coat are used to warn predators. If they ignore this warning the skunk will lift up his tail and raising the hairs making it look bigger. He grinds his teeth and stomps his front paws on the floor. Most predators leave it at that, but the persistent one is in for a nasty surprise. The skunk aims his anal glands towards the attacker and sprays quite accurately a yellow, oily foul smelling fluid onto his goal. A skunk can spray 10 up to 16.4 feet. The coat pattern serves as a warning to predators. Should they ignore the warning, the skunk flares his tail, spreads out the tail hair, grinds his teeth and will stomp on the ground with his front legs. Most predators will leave it at this, but the single enemy that remains gets a nasty surprise. The skunk points the anal glands on the attacker and sprays a yellow, oily, smelly liquid. It can spray nine to sixteen feet, but the vapor that is released can carry up to thirty three feet away. The smell will hang around for a long time and can be smelled from afar. However, the skunk is very sparse with his fluid, since he has only enough for five or six attacks and it takes a few weeks before the liquid is replaced. Only the American eagle owl, which has a poor sense of smell, is a formidable natural enemy of the skunk. The vast majority ends up becoming the victims of automobiles though.

A skunk is an omnivore. The natural diet consists of rodents, insects, lizards, eggs of ground-nesting birds, amphibians, vegetables, fruits and berries. The striped skunk is a solitary nocturnal animal, is largely crepuscular and nocturnal, and they sleep during the day in a quiet corner. It does not hibernate, but he goes into winter rest in cold regions. In the fall they grow a thick fat layer, to come through the food-poor winter months to come. Often several skunks spend their winter rest together in a den. Sometimes they use an existing shelter such as a tree or a hollow space between the rocks. Occasionally they dig their own den. Striped skunks sometimes use hollow walls and crawl spaces as an accommodation. In general, winter dens and maternity dens are underground, others are above ground.

Explorers reported as early as the 16th century that Native Americans kept skunks in and around their villages. The first western settlers also welcomed skunks around their farms to kill off pests such as mice and rats. By breeding skunks on fur farms since the mid-19th century quite a lot of colors and markings have been bred. There are brown, gray, apricot and white skunks. When the fur market collapsed after the American Civil War (1861-1865), the fur breeders have focused on the pet industry. Artis was the first Dutch zoo in 1939 that had skunks in their collection. Since the 70's they have also been kept as pets in the Netherlands.

The mating season is from February to April. Gestation lasts 62 to 66 days, including the prolonged gestation of 19 days. The skunk gets 3-9 young per litter and they are born in May. At birth the kits are blind and covered with peach-like fuzz. The characteristic striped markings are already clearly recognizable. After six to seven weeks the young are weaned and go with the mother on the hunt. They live up to 3 to 6 years in the wild and 6 to 10 years in captivity.


Nice, a litter!

Young skunks are very cute and it can be very tempting to have a litter born. But remember that skunks have large litters of puppies and that for each puppy a new home has to be found. One should also take into account any inbreeding. Many skunks that are imported are most likely littermates or otherwise related. Usually there is no available pedigree of the skunk. Moreover, skunks in most European countries can not be descented legally. Baby skunks will let go little dry puffs in order to let their mum and littermates know where they are. It can take up to several months before a skunk kit has full control over his anal glands. However they will not empty their gland completely but rather be "leaking" little amounts of skunk spray during playtime or when extremely scared. These little amounts may smell bad but it doesn't compare to an actual skunk spraying.Taking this into account, the competition from imports of American descented skunks is very large. For these reasons, the foundation is not involved in breeding.

Legislation and descenting

It is not permitted in most European countries to descent skunks (or any other mammal) and is not necessary. A skunk will, if well socialized, not use his anal glands. Only very young skunks lack full control over their anal glands and may "leak". Well cared for skunks have a neutral smell and often take on the smell of their surroundings. This is because the coat can absorb odors due to a special hair structure. A skunk that sleeps in straw will smell like straw and when they sit a while in the lap of someone wearing perfume it will, after a few minutes, smell like that perfume. A well cared for skunk doesn't smell as unpleasant as you might think ... Descented skunks, however, may be imported and sold. Note that if the descenting procedure isn't followed out correctly they might loose control of the small remainders of their anal glands and have a slight "skunkie" odor.

The legislation governing the keeping of skunks varies from country to country. Please refer to your local laws.


The Biology of the Striped Skunk B.J. Verts

Nutrition and Behavior of Striped Skunks J.W. Dragoo

Economic value of North American skunks D.E. Lantz