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.
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
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.
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.