Skunks - General information

 

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Striped Skunks are carnivores and used to be in the family Mustelidae along with animals such as otters, badgers, stoats, weasels, and ferrets. Due to newly discovered differences, some now put them in their own family, Mephitidae.

There are nine species of American Skunks. Two Spotted, five Hog-nosed, and The Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and its near relative the Hooded Skunk (M. macroura). They are very variable in size, weighing from 700-2500 grams and often even heavier in captivity. The fur is dense and strong, like Mink, and they have been both farmed and hunted for their skins. In America, in the wild, they can carry Rabies, which is why the keeping of them as pets in some states, is forbidden.

 
     
  It is the Striped Skunk ( M. mephitis) in which we are interested and which is kept as a house pet in those States in the USA where it is legal to do so. They are  increasingly kept as a pets in the UK. Their home range stretches from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They are fairly common in the wild, and inhabit a variety of habitats, including deserts, open grassland and woodland. They are generally active from dusk to early morning, spending the day asleep in a hole or burrow, or even under a garden shed. In the northern parts of the range Skunks eat a lot and get very fat in the autumn, and can spend many weeks asleep, during the very cold winters. It is thought that they do not truly hibernate, but just sleep. The wild diet is insects, arachnids, roots, green vegetation and fruit. They do catch and eat small rodents, lizards, and other small vertebrates, as well as carrion. Recent examination of the contents of Skunks stomachs in Texas shows that between 60 and 90% is insects and arachnids, most of the rest being vegetation.
     
They are mainly solitary, but sometimes den together, particularly in winter in the northern part of the range: it is thought they do this  to conserve heat. Babies are born about June, after a gestation of about 63 days. They can practice delayed implantation. Babies are born blind, they open their eyes after about three weeks and are weaned at about eight weeks .They usually have only one litter per year of 4 to 9 young, but up to twenty has been recorded. In the wild they live for about six years, but often much longer in captivity, some being over twenty years old.

They are famous for expelling a strong musk oil from two glands, one each side of their anus. They only do this under extreme provocation, such as when attacked by a dog, or run over with a car. This scent is discharged as either droplets or as an atomised spray and aimed at the victims eyes from a distance of up to three meters. The smell is like a mixture of very strong onion and garlic, and not that unpleasant. This musk oil is nearly impossible to get rid of by washing. In America you often hear that it can be removed with tomato ketchup. but in our experience, only neat bleach works! However, it is not the smell that you have to worry about, that is just a warning. The fluid on contact with the skin, gives a severe burning feeling, and if it reaches the eyes, blinds for up to fifteen minutes. This is why skunked dogs scream and run off, nothing to do with the smell. The smell can travel up to two and a half kilometres downwind and stick to things for many years.