The scientific name for the black and white striped or spotted furry animals is Mephitis mephitis. Skunks are mostly found in the United States, northern parts of Mexico and the southern and central parts of Canada. The animals have long tails and short limbs. Their average weight is fourteen pounds. Male skunks are built to be a little bigger than the females. Some skunks have swirl patterns on the fur. The skunk family name, “Mephitidae” means “stink”.
There are about thirteen subspecies of skunks. The Florida, Eastern, California and Texas skunks have long tails. The Arizona skunk has a shorter tail and smaller skull than the Texas skunk. The Great Basin skunk is said to be the largest of all subspecies. It has long hind feet and a heavy skull. The Louisiana subspecies is short tailed and small. Their sense of smell and hearing is better than their eyesight. Their poor vision makes it difficult for them to see objects which are as close as three meters. Though rare, there is sub specie of spotted skunks, mostly inhabiting Missouri.
When mating, one male gets intimate with more than one female. Skunks have a short gestation period, lasting between 59 to 77 days. The female can give birth to up to ten offsprings.The females give birth annually. The baby skunks are known as kits. They are born blind and only gain their eyesight after about three weeks. After being weaned, they leave the den. The kits can have their own offsprings when theiy are between ten to twelve months old.
Skunks are known to be nocturnal. During the day, they sleep in their dens, and get to be active when the night time comes. When being pursued by a predator, they try not to outrun them. When threatened, the animals growl and stamp their front feet. Skunks can run for about ten miles in an hour.
The animals live in grasslands, woodlands, deserts and edges. Most of the time, the animals dig their own dens, which are made in tree hollows, fencerows or underneath porches. They can however occupy an abandoned den dug by other animals if they come across one. Their nails are long and fore claws strong and well muscled. This helps when they are digging their dens.
While in the wild, the skunk can live for up to four years. When kept, a skunk can survive for a decade.
The skunks are omnivorous animals. They feed on insects, rodents, reptiles, fruits and worms, berries, mushrooms and bird eggs. To feed on honey bees, skunks often attack bee hives. Their thick furs protect them from stings.
The rectums at the end of the animals’ tails have anal glands. Both glands have nipples. That’s where the skunk smell comes from. Through their anus, skunks release an oily substance, which can be sprayed as far as ten feet. While the substance sprayed may not be poisonous, it releases a pungent smell which stays on the victim for days. The smell is irritating and will make the victim uncomfortable for a long time. They do this to keep predators and threats away. When being chased by predators, skunks aim and release this substance which forms a cloudy foam on air, this prevents the predator from getting to run though to them. The animals can also aim the substance on the predator’s face. Spotted, hog nosed and striped skunks all have different ways of emitting this spray. The striped often face their attackers head on. They can simultaneously face the predator and direct their tail to them. Some of the predators which prey on skunks include coyotes, badgers, great horned owls, gray foxes and bald eagles. The skunk spray is known to be highly flammable.
Skunk fur is a commodity to man. They have a rich luster. Skunks are also beneficial to farmers and those who practice agriculture as they destroy garden pests. They eat bugs and parasites, which are harmful to crops. They can also be kept as pets in some states.
Skunks, especially the striped type, are known to be carriers of the rabies virus. Rabies affects the central nervous system in mammals. Skunks with the Rabies virus are a threat to humans as the virus can infect humans even when they don’t show the symptoms during the first stages.