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Striped Skunk

striped skunk Mephitis mephitis

What is a Striped Skunk?
A striped skunk is a mammal, a type of animal. Like all mammals, it has four limbs (legs). It has hair (fur). Its body temperature is kept at the same level regardless of the outside temperature. Its young are born after developing inside the mother's body in a special organ called the uterus. After birth, the young are fed with milk produced in the female’s mammary glands. It has a complex brain.

What Does It Look Like?
The striped skunk has black and white hairs. The color pattern varies somewhat between individuals, but in general there is a thin, white line in the middle of the face followed at the back of the head by a larger, white patch that splits into a white stripe on each side of the body. The white stripe on the side may or may not reach the tail. The tail is bushy with hairs that are white at the base and black at the tip. The rest of the body hairs and the nose are black. The legs are short, and the nose is pointed. Its front legs are shorter than its back legs.

How Big is It?
Striped skunks in Illinois average between 20.50 to 30.75 inches in total length. The average weight is between about 6.5 and 12.0 pounds.

Where Does It Live?
Found throughout Illinois, striped skunks live in forest edges, pastures, fencerows, small woodlots, crop fields, old fields and cities. They use underground burrows when the weather is cold and when they are raising their young.

How Does It Reproduce?
Mating occurs in February and March. Young are born from April through June, depending upon when fertilization occurred. There is one litter per year, with from four to 10 young (kits). Only the female cares for the kits.

What Does It Eat?
They eat both plant and animal materials, and their diet changes seasonally. In summer, they eat many insects, insect larvae (grubs), earthworms, snails and crayfish. In fall, fruits are part of the diet. Foods eaten in winter and spring include mice and voles. Skunks also eat bird eggs, dead animals, frogs, small snakes, lizards and garbage.

Does Anything Eat It?
Large owls, coyotes (Canis latrans), foxes, American badgers (Taxidea taxus) and bobcats (Lynx rufus) will eat striped skunks.

What Else Should I Know About the Striped Skunk?
- The front claws are curved for digging.

- The skunk has a pair of anal glands that can spray a bad-smelling musk. It uses this spray for defense. If it has time, the skunk will arch its back, raise its tail, stamp its feet and make sounds as a warning. If it doesn’t have time or the warning doesn’t work, then the skunk may spray the musk. The spray can be shot about 10 feet and is long-lasting. The spray can cause nausea, burning and temporary blindness. 

- Skunks can make sounds, but they do not often do so.

- Skunks do not hibernate, but they may become inactive for several days in severe winter weather. They have a den in winter and may share it with other skunks.

Can I hunt It?
Striped skunks may be legally trapped and hunted in Illinois following all relevant laws and regulations. Specific hunting information about the striped skunk is included in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.