Published on February 8, 2013 by Amy
This short-legged, housecat-sized mammal is black with a narrow white stripe running up the middle of the forehead and a broad white area on the nape of the neck that usually divides into a V at about the shoulders. The resulting two white stripes may continue to the base of the bushy tail. The white stripes show considerable variation. In some animals, they are broad and well defined; in others, they are absent. The striped skunk has a relatively small head with short-rounded ears, small eyes, and a pointed muzzle. Two large musk glands are located at the base of the tail.
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The striped skunk is only found in North America. Its range runs from central Canada to northern Mexico.
Female striped skunks normally produce a single annual litter of 4 to 7 (range 3-10) young in the spring following a gestation of 59 to 77 days. The young are born in a nest of dry leaves within the den. Newborn young have their eyes and ears closed, have well- developed claws, and have a fine covering of hair in which the adult pattern is evident. The eyes open at 22 to 35 days, while the ears open between 24 and 27 days. Young skunks nurse for 6 to 7 weeks, after which they emerge from the den and begin following their mother on her nightly foraging trips. The young usually remain with the mother until late summer when they disperse. Young skunks begin breeding at one year of age.
In the wild, striped skunks may live for five to six years.
Striped skunks are primarily solitary, nocturnal mammals. They spend the day in underground burrows, beneath abandoned buildings, in hollow logs, or in wood piles. Although active individuals have been observed during every month, they may become dormant for prolonged periods during severe winter weather. Unlike the eastern spotted skunk, they are not good climbers.
Striped skunks are omnivorous and feed primarily on small rodents, eggs, insects and their larvae, berries, and carrion. Birds and reptiles may be taken occasionally.
Because of its well-known and effective defense mechanism, the striped skunk is not molested by many animals. The Great Horned Owl is its major predator, but the Striped Skunk is also preyed upon by hawks, Coyotes, foxes, and Bobcats.
With their short, stubby legs, it isn’t easy for a skunk to outrun a predator. So they have adapted a unique defense system. When a skunk is threatened, it will first try to run. If that doesn’t work, it will try to frighten a predator by arching its back, raising its tail and turning its back on the predator. It may also stomp its feet. If this doesn’t work, as a last resort, the skunk will spray the animal with a strong-smelling fluid. The fluid not only really stinks, it can also sting the eyes of the predator, giving the skunk time to get away. A skunk can spray as far as twelve feet!
Being sprayed by a skunk is undeniably unpleasant; it has been known to cause nausea. However, the yellowish, oily liquid sprayed when the skunk feels threatened can do no lasting or serious harm. Skunks can hit a target with the liquid from up to 15 feet away. The best thing to do when your cat or dog has ended up on the wrong side of a skunk is to wash it in tomato juice – for reasons unknown, this neutralizes and removes the odor.