Mephitis mephitis (Schreber 1776)
Order Carnivora : Family Mephitidae
DESCRIPTION. A medium-sized, stout-bodied skunk with two white stripes on sides of back that join each other in the neck region and extend onto the head anteriorly and onto each side of the tail posteriorly; stripe pattern varies (see figure below); tip of tail black; two large scent glands, one on each side of the anus, produce the characteristic skunk musk; ears short, rounded; eyes small; five toes on each foot, front ones armed with long claws; hind feet with heel almost in contact with ground; tail long and bushy; pelage long, coarse, and oily. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 1/2 × 2 = 34. Sexes colored alike, but males usually larger than females. Averages for external measurements: of males, total length, 680 mm; tail, 250 mm; hind foot, 90 mm; of females, 610-225-65 mm. Weight, 1.4–6.6 kg, depending on age and amount of fat.
SUBSPECIES. Mephitis m. varians in the western part of the state and M. m. mes-omelas east of the 100th meridian.
HABITS. Striped skunks generally are nocturnal, venturing forth late in the day and returning to their dens early in the morning. Normally, they remain within 1.6 to 3.2 km (1–2 mi.) of the den during their nightly foraging. Although not true hibernators, skunks store quantities of body fat in winter, and with the onset of cold weather they may become dormant in underground dens for short periods of time.
Striped skunks construct their homes in many habitats. Rocky crevices and outcrops are favorite denning sites, as are natural cavities along the edge of a stream. When natural denning sites are absent, they may utilize the burrows of armadillos, badgers, foxes, and other animals or establish themselves under deserted houses or barns. Skunks are notorious for establishing dens under houses, barns, and abandoned buildings.
Striped skunks are gregarious, living in families from the time the young are old enough to walk until they are able to fend for themselves. The mother, occasionally accompanied by the male, may often be seen feeding with her brood. Members of the family separate in the fall, but winter aggregations of as many as 7–10 individuals, either adults or a mixture of adults and young, have been reported in well-situated dens.
Female striped skunks enter estrous in late February through March. Occasionally they may breed as late as the middle of June, but this is an exception and probably occurs only when the female has lost an earlier litter. Males are in prime breeding condition throughout February and March. Most young are born during the first part of May following a gestation period of 62–75 days. Litter size varies from three to nine and averages about five.
Young striped skunks are born with short hair, a distinct stripe pattern, closed eyes, and closed ear canals. Their mean weight is about 21 g. The eyes and ears open after about 30 days, at which time they are also able to produce musk. They are weaned at 8–10 weeks; once young are able to leave their dens, they follow their mother about as she forages for food. Dispersal of family units takes place during late summer and autumn.
Striped skunks are omnivorous. Their favorite foods are insects, especially grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets, followed by birds, mammals, and plants. Depending on the season, insects may constitute anywhere from 52% to 96% of their diet. They also are fond of nestling birds, eggs, field mice, young rabbits, and small reptiles. Freshwater clams often are dug for in the loose sands along the banks of a stream. Skunks occasionally feed on chickens and may cause damage to apiaries.
Striped skunks have few natural predators. Owls, hawks, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and dogs may occasionally take one, but most predators are repulsed by the odor of their musk. Striped skunks are highly susceptible to being struck by vehicles, and road-killed animals are frequently seen along highways throughout Texas, especially during breeding season. Individuals seldom live >2 years in the wild, but may live 7–10 years in captivity.
When disturbed or startled, striped skunks utter a peculiar purring sound and often growl when attacked by humans. They typically express their anger by rising on their hind feet, lurching forward, stamping both front feet, and at the same time clicking their teeth. The discharging of musk generally follows this behavior.
Striped skunks are commonly obtained by trappers, but because of the low value of their pelt, they are not an important fur producer in Texas.
POPULATION STATUS. Common. This is the most common skunk throughout Texas, and it appears to be in good shape. It has adapted well to human conditions and may be common in many urban environments.
CONSERVATION STATUS. The IUCN lists the striped skunk as a species of least concern, and it does not appear on the federal or state lists of concerned species. Rabies and distemper outbreaks often cause local skunk populations to severely decline, although most recover once the virus declines.
From The Mammals of Texas, Seventh Edition by David J. Schmidly and Robert D. Bradley, copyright © 1994, 2004, 2016. Courtesy of the University of Texas Press.