Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis


The fur of a striped skunk is black with a white stripe that begin at the nape of the neck where it splits into two stripes down the back, merging again into a single stripe at the tail. Striped skunks have a small head, short legs, a long fluffy tail, and are similar in size to a domestic cat. The claws of their front paws are longer than those of the back, making them excellent diggers.


Striped skunks are found throughout North America from Canada to the United States and Northern Mexico. They prefer a variety of habitats including wooded areas, grasslands, and agricultural clearings. They can also be found in suburban areas. Underground dens can be dug but skunks prefer to inhabit burrows made by other animals or under tree stumps and buildings.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Eating a variety of foods, the striped skunk is an omnivore; eating insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, crustaceans, fruits, grasses, grains and nuts. Insects provide about 70% of their diet, they will often attack colonies of ants and bees.


Male striped skunks are solitary and polygamous (having a different mate during every breeding season) and are not typically found together with females except for the few days required for fertilization. Mating takes place in mid-February until mid-March. If a pregnancy is unsuccessful, a female can mate a second time for that season. Females typically give birth to a litter of five or six young 60-77 days after fertilization. Females nurse their young in a den for a month and a half before they are fully weaned. Young usually stay with their mother for about a year after birth. Up to 90% of skunks die during their first winter but they may live 2-3 years in the wild or up to 15 years in captivity.

Months and Times of Activity

Striped skunks are nocturnal, sleeping during the day in underground dens and being most active at night. Striped skunks have periods of inactivity. Females usually will stay together in a den during winter, but males usually lives alone in a den during the winter and will often emerge during mild temperatures to feed.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • Scent-spraying defense mechanism against predators, skunks have scent glands inside the anus which produce a foul smelling streams of fluid. These streams can reach 2-3 meters in length and causing nausea and burning of the eyes and nasal cavities of the predator. Skunks communicate using scent and posture, raising their fur and tail as a warning before spraying.
  • Striped skunks have poor vision.
  • Striped skunks help to eliminate insect and rodent pests that harm crops in agricultural areas.
  • Legend:
  • Children’s Book: Tooter’s Stinky Wish by Brian Cretney


Kiiskila, J. 2014. "Mephitis mephitis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at