About Skunks

Striped skunk © John Collins, USFWS
Striped skunk © John Collins, USFWS

With their bold black and white patterning, bushy tails and wobbly gaits, skunks are easy to recognize. Of course, it’s often their smell that precedes them! Five species of skunks live in the United States, but only the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis nigra) occurs in New England.

Identification

Coloration varies among individuals—brown, all black, and albino skunks sometimes occur—and males and females look alike, though the female is about one-fourth smaller. An adult skunk averages 29 to 36 inches long, including its very bushy tail.

Habitat

The striped skunk occupies a variety of habitats, including fields, woodlands, and suburban and urban locations, where they feel quite at home under porches, decks, and sheds. The skunk may excavate its own burrow, which can reach three to four feet below ground and six to 20 feet long, ending in round chambers lined with leaves and grass. More often a skunk will take over the burrows of woodchucks or foxes.

Behavior

Skunks are normally nocturnal. They spend the day sleeping in dark locations, such as
burrows or under porches, and exit in the evening to search for food. Their presence usually becomes apparent only when the odor from their scent glands permeates the air after being released at real or imagined danger.

While not true hibernators, skunks do settle into dens, sometimes three or four adults together, to sleep during severe weather and emerge during warm spells.

Skunks use their spray as a defense mechanism when trapped or pursued. Given the opportunity, however, they would prefer to walk away from danger and spray only as a last resort. Learn More

Food

Skunks usually keep their foraging range just under a mile, though males and young animals sometimes wander as far as five miles. As omnivores, they look to small rodents, insects, and seasonal fruits to make up most of their diet.

They eat the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and regularly dig up turtle eggs and the nests of yellow-jacket wasps. They seem to favor the grubs of Japanese beetles and June beetles, which feed on the roots of lawn grasses. Skunks also love garbage and any pet food set outside.

Life Cycle

Skunks are polygamous, meaning they mate more than one member of the opposite sex. In the northeast, the breeding season begins in February and lasts through March. After mating, the male leaves the female and takes no part in the raising the young.

Four to eight young are born between late April and early June after a gestation period of 62 to 68 days. The young are born helpless, blind, and hairless, although the striped pattern is distinguishable on their bodies. Their eyes open at about 22 days; at six to eight weeks weaning begins and the young forage for food with the mother.

Situations & Solutions

Skunks will make their dens under porches, decks, and sheds, and this can pose a problem for homeowners. If you have a problem skunk, there are several humane methods for eradicating it from the home or garden. Learn More

Skunks & Spraying

Skunks use their spray as a defense mechanism when trapped or pursued. Given the opportunity, however, they would prefer to walk away from danger and spray only as a last resort. If you or a pet has been sprayed, there are several options to remove the smell. Learn More