Striped Skunk


Striped Skunk (Mephitis Mephitis)

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is an omnivorous mammal of the skunk family Mephitidae. Found north of Mexico, it is one of the best-known mammals in Canada and the United StatesSkunks (also called polecats in America) are mammals known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong odor. Different species of skunk vary in appearance from black-and-white to brown or cream colored, but all havewarning coloration.


The striped skunk is a stoutly-built, short-limbed animal with a small, conical head and a long, heavily furred tail.[7] Adult males are 10% larger than females, with both sexes measuring between 52–77 cm in total body length and usually weighing 1.8–4.5 kg (4.0–9.9 lb), though some may weigh 5.5 kg (12 lb).[8] The feet are plantigrade with bare soles,[8] and are not as broad or flat as those of hog-nosed skunks.[7] The forefeet are armed with five long, curved claws adapted for digging, while the those on the hind feet are shorter and straighter.[8]

The color patterns of the fur vary greatly, but generally consist of a black base with a white stripe extending from the head which divides along the shoulders, continuing along the flanks to the rump and tail. Some specimens have a white patch on the chest, while others bear white stripes on the outer surface of the front limbs.[8] Brown or cream-colored mutations occasionally occur.[9]

Like all skunks, the striped skunk possesses two highly-developed scent glands on each side of the anus, containing about 15 milliliters of musk each. This oily, yellow-colored musk consists of a sulfuralcohol compound which can be sprayed at a distance of several meters. If sprayed on the eyes, this compound can cause a temporary burning sensation.[8] The odor of this musk was likened by Ernest Thompson Seton to a mixture of perfume musk, essence of garlic, burning sulfur and sewer gas “magnified a thousand times”,[9] though Clinton Hart Merriam claimed that it isn’t “one tenth” as offensive as that produced by minks and weasels.[10]


The English word “skunk” has two root words of Algonquian and Iroquoian origin, specifically seganku (Abenaki) and scangaresse (Huron).[8][9] The Cree and Ojibwe word shee-gawk is the root word for Chicago, which means ‘skunk-land’.[9] Alternative English names for the striped skunk include common skunk,[7] Hudsonian skunk, northern skunk, black-tailed skunk and prairie polecat.[9] The latter name was originally used by English settlers, who noted the animal’s similarity to the European polecat. This association likely resulted in the striped skunk’s subsequent unfavorable reputation as a poultry thief, despite it being a much less destructive animal than the true polecat.[4] The name “Alaska sable” was employed by furriers during the late 19th century.[10]

Local and indigenous names

Taxonomy and evolution

The earliest fossil finds attributable to Mephitis were found in the Broadwater site in Nebraska, dating back to the early Pleistocene less than 1.8 million years ago. By the late Pleistocene (70,000-14,500 million years ago), the striped skunk was widely distributed throughout the southern United States, and it expanded northwards and westwards by the Holocene (10,000-4,500 million years ago) following the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier.[11]

Phylogenetic analyses of the species’ cytochrome b gene and microsatellite data in 2012 indicated that there are four phylogroups of striped skunk. The first emerged from the Texas-Mexico region during the Rancholabrean before the Illinoian glaciation and colonized the southeastern United States. The second, still originating in the Texas-Mexico region, expanded westwards to the Rocky Mountains during the Illinoian glacial period. Two subsequent subclades were formed during the Sangamonian interglacial on either side of the Sierra Nevada. The subclade that colonized the Great Basin later expanded eastwards across the northern Rocky Mountains during the Holocene, recolonising the Great Plains and making contact with the southern phylogroup. A similar, but less significant, secondary contact occurred when the same subclade intermingled with members of the eastern phylogroup east of the Mississippi river.[11]

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