Mephitidae (skunks and stink badgers)
HABITAT AND RANGE
Skunks are very adaptable creatures and can live in a variety of habitats including mixed woods and brushland. They tend to live near humans since human presence seems to drive away their natural predators. M. mephitis can be found from southern Canada south to Costa Rica.
Striped skunks are unmistakable (for good reason). They have small pointed heads, powerful digging claws and a black furred body. A twin white stripe originates from the head and ends at the base of the tail. The tail is black with a white tip and white stripes along the side. The purpose of this color scheme is to leave little doubt as to whether the animal is a skunk or not. Being black and white advertises the skunk’s infamous defense but is not too conspicuous.
Skunks are omnivores and very opportunistic which lends to their success. Usually they will feed on large insects, grubs and worms as well as mice, frogs and spiders. They are not beyond feeding on carrion and garbage (another reason why they gravitate towards humans).
REPRODUCTION AND LIFESPAN
Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years of age. Mating season occurs during February and March and is the only times skunks are seen together. Male skunks are polygamous and battle other males for mating rights. Gestation lasts about 2 months after which a litter that averages 5-7 offspring is born. The offspring are altricial; they are born naked and blind although the black and white pattern is apparent on their skin. They acquire their spraying ability after about 3 weeks, at 4 weeks their eyes open and at 2 months they are weaned and ready to leave the den. After 7 months skunks are almost fully grown. Skunks live 2-4 years in the wild and up to 10 years in captivity.
Skunks prefer not to waste their spray (they hold enough chemical for about 3 shots). Instead they warn encroaching animals first by flashing their white tails and stamping their feet. If the intruder persists, skunks can spray a yellowish oily liquid up to 12 feet with devastating accuracy. The sulfide mercaptan is the active ingredient in skunk spray. Great horned owls are the chief predators of skunks and for good reason; owls have a very poor sense of smell and therefore can tolerate being sprayed by skunks.