The Striped Skunk, made notorious by the Loony Toons cartoon character Pepe Le Pew, is a fascinating creature with a dangerous defense mechanism. The Striped Skunk is jet black with two narrow white stripes on its back and a narrow white strip on its nose. The Striped Skunk is about the same size and weight of an average house cat, has poor vision but excellent hearing and possesses a great sense of smell.
Skunks are nocturnal animals who are omnivorous in nature. They are active year-round and their diet consists of small mammals, nuts, berries, insects, grubs and pine cones. Skunks forage for their food, often digging small holes to uncover insects and mice. Being nocturnal, they are rarely spotted during the day opting to stay in their den until nightfall where their black camouflage takes effect.
Skunks will make their home virtually anywhere including abandoned dens of other animals, under houses, in dog houses and in the hollow of a tree trunk. The skunk will drag dried leaves, pine needles and grass into its burrow to cover the floor for warmth. In the winter, it might make a ball of grass and push this into the door of the den to keep out the cold weather.
The white stripe on the skunk's back acts as a warning to predators that the skunk can be dangerous if picked on. Initially, a skunk will hiss, stomp its feet, raise its hair and let out a terrible growl to warn its predators. This is generally enough to ward off curious passer-bys. However, should a predator become persistent, the skunk will quickly turn its back, lift its tail straight up and release its #1 defense...the musky chemical "methyl mercaptan". Skunks can spray this chemical with remarkable accuracy up to a distance of 10-15 feet, and the smell from the spray has been know to carry in the air for several miles.
Skunks give birth in the spring and can have from 4-8 babies at a time. Born vision-less, hairless and without teeth, the babies are very vulnerable post-birth. Within weeks, the babies grow teeth and gain their sight enabling them to hunt with their mother. By the fall, the babies are ready to venture off on their own.
The tracks of a skunk are quite similar to that of a black bear, but obviously much smaller! Skunk tracks show five toes on the front foot and five on the hind foot. Because skunks have longer claws on their front feet, there will be a greater space between the claw marks and toes on the front foot tracks. The hind foot will show claw marks much closer to the toes. The larger claws on the front feet are used for digging dens, foraging for food and for defense.