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Scientific name: Mephitis mephitis

The Latin name for skunk, Mephitis mephitis, means foul odor, the skunk’s main claim to fame. A glossy black mammal with a white stripe running down its head, dividing into two stripes, one on each side of  the body, is distinctive and quickly recognized. The skunk can weigh from 2-11 pounds, about the size of a cat, but with a very long tail (from 7-15 inches). They have poor sight, which is one reason that they are often hit by cars.

Formerly, the skunk was categorized as a weasel, along with martens, fishers, and mink. Like them, the skunk has a soft and durable fur that can be dyed. Perhaps for that reason the skunk has been protected under the Environmental Conservation Law since the late 1800s, which allows for a limited hunting season.

Skunk are considered crepuscular animals, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk.

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Omnivorous. They eat both plants, like berries, roots leaves and insects, like earthworms, grubs and their favorite, the honeybee. They will even eat frogs and snakes. If garbage and pet food is left outdoors at night, unsecured, it will attract skunks as well (and raccoons and bear!).


The skunk used to favor fields and pastures, but now will find a mowed lawn at the edge of the woods to be equally inviting. An open area, without a tree canopy, is potential habitat for the skunk.

Life Cycle

They breed in February and March, with the females giving birth in May. A litter may consist of a half dozen offspring. They mature throughout the season, becoming independent by 3 months.

As winter approaches, they locate dens or borrows (or dig ones) where they will spend much time. They do not hibernate, but they sleep a lot. To save energy, they are able to lower their body temperature. Males will occasionally leave the den and go above ground to forage. Mostly, though, they rely on their body fat to get them through the winter and may loose up to 50% of their weight.

Ecosystem Connections

Most mammals will avoid the skunk. However, the great horned owl is a succesful predator.

That Smell!

Skunks have two glands at the base of their tail that they can spray at will to deter enemies. They may raise their tail and stamp their feet first as a warning. Once sprayed, the smell of the odor can carry in the wind for miles.


Fun Facts

Tomato juice will not remove or neutralize the smell. Read here how to best de-skunk your pet.



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