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Striped Skunk

Overview

Skunks are known to everyone by sight, smell, and reputation. They are found in every county of Ohio as well as throughout the United States. Pioneers found the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) when they came to Ohio, although skunk numbers are far greater now. Skunks are most abundant in rural Ohio where there are farms with fencerows, forest edges and old fields. They are also found in urban areas. Skunks are known for their ability to spray musk when threatened. They can spray with great accuracy up to 15 feet.

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Description

The striped skunk is about the size of a house cat, with a large deep body, small head, and short legs. The hair is long and black, with a broad patch of white on its head and shoulders. Two white lines forming a “V” from the shoulder area may extend part way or all of the way to the base of the bushy tail. Color variations include brown, white, cream, black, and, occasionally, albino. Males and females are colored alike with males being slightly larger in size. Each foot has five slightly webbed toes with the forefeet having long, curved claws designed for digging. The rear feet have shorter, straighter claws.

Reproduction

Skunks mate in Ohio in late February and continue through March. Females are in heat for four to five days and will typically mate several times during this period. Males tend to be a bit promiscuous and will move from den to den mating with females. Litters tend to be from 2 to 10 young which are born pink-skinned and blind. By the second week they are furred and by the third week their eyes have opened. By the sixth week they are weaned and will be out and about with their mother on nightly hunting forays. This family will stay together until the next spring when the young will go off on their own.

Habitat & Behavior

Striped skunks are highly adaptable and occupy a wide variety of habitats in Ohio from rural areas to the suburbs. It is this adaptability which accounts for their numbers growing stronger as civilization and humans encroached. They are omnivorous, but their favorite foods include insects, small mammals, fish, crustaceans, fruits, grasses, leaves, buds, grains, nuts, and carrion.

Although not true hibernators, skunks store quantities of body fat in the fall. When the weather gets cold they will retreat to protective dens where they might remain for several weeks or a month at a time. Skunks are primarily nocturnal animals and very seldom do they wander around during the daytime. They will occupy dens that they have dug or in dens that have been used previously by groundhogs or foxes. These dens may be located beneath buildings, in open fields, on hillsides, or under logs in the woods.

Research & Surveys

2012 Update

Although often avoided, this furbearer occurs throughout Ohio in all habitat types, primarily in open areas and along forest edges. In Ohio, the highest abundance of skunks occurs in the northern, central, and western portions of the state. The statewide population is stable to slightly declining. However, population fluctuations are commonly seen in this species and harvest pressure has remained stable over the past 10 years. The current population will provide ample opportunities for harvest and wildlife observation during 2012-2013. Research and development of Best Management Practices has identified traps and trapping systems that allow for the safe, selective, and efficient capture of skunks, while maintaining high animal welfare standards.