Skunk Sense

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 8, 2010

putorius or “smelly spotted weasel” in Greek).

Both species are mostly black with white markings. The striped skunk has two white stripes on its back that meet at its head and tail. The spotted skunk’s markings aren’t spots necessarily, but a series of broken white stripes running the length of its body.

The striped skunk varies in length from 20–30 inches and weighs 3.5–10 pounds. The smaller spotted skunk is only 14–22 inches and weighs about three-quarters of a pound—considerably less than the average house cat. Though they rarely live longer than three years in the wild, skunks in captivity may reach 10 or more years of age.

Both species of skunk are notorious for their primary method of defense, discharging a noxious spray from two internal scent glands located at the base of their tail. These open to the outside through small nipples. They have voluntary control over these glands and can aim behind, to either side, or to the front by changing their posture and the direction of the nipples. The glands hold approximately 1 tablespoon of the foul musk, enough for five or six rounds. The secretion is not only smelly, but a powerful eye irritant. The mist can travel as far as 10 feet.

Without this defense, skunks would provide an easy meal for many predators. Luckily, they usually give a series of warnings before spraying. They might stomp their feet, bare their teeth, grunt, arch their back, raise their fur, and most ominously—stand on their front legs and lift their tail. Any creature that stays for the end of this dramatic display gets the grand finale. Don’t depend on a skunk to be this patient, however.

No Place Like Hole

The larger, more common striped skunk is found throughout the state, whereas the spotted skunk is rare. Only small numbers of this protected species are found in the Ozark highland region of southern Missouri. The home range of skunks is one-half to 2 miles in diameter, but they may only travel one-quarter to one-half mile in an evening of foraging.

Skunks prefer borders, brushy field corners, fence rows and open grassy fields broken by wooded ravines and rocky outcrops, where permanent water is nearby. They typically den in the ground, digging their own burrows or using sites excavated by other animals. They may also take up residence in rocky crevices, stumps, caves, wood piles, haystacks and under buildings and porches. These last

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