Distribution of Mephitis mephitis in British Columbia. (Click on the map to view a larger version.)
Source: Map courtesy of the Province of British Columbia (2008).
The Striped Skunk is a familiar and distinctive member of the Weasel Family. It is about the size of a house cat but has a stout body and is often recognized at first by its distinctive, strong odour and by its 2 bold white stripes running along its black body. It has thick, glossy fur that is black and white striped, a triangular head that tapers to a pointed nose with a bulbous nose pad, small ears, and a bushy tail (18 to 25 centimeters) (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011). The white stripes run from the forehead over the head and extend into two lateral stripes along the back--the amount and width of striping is very variable, however, and some individuals can appear mostly black (Hatler et al. 2008). Males are generally larger than females; weight ranges from 1.2–6.3 kg (with an average weight of 2.73 kg-3.64 kg), and a body length (excluding the tail) of 33–46 cm (Wikipedia 2011).
Skunks generally live in abandoned dens of other similar-sized mammals, including marmots and foxes, and only occasionally excavate their own dens. In urban/suburban areas they may den under decks or buildings. Dens constructed by skunks usually have more than one opening and include a system of tunnels and chambers (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). Leaves will be used to line one of the chambers for a nest and are also used to block up openings (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). They generally forage within 800 m of their den, but may forage as far as 2 km away (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). Skunks spend the winter in their dens: "By autumn skunks have acquired a heavy layer of fat, and in November or December they select a deep den in which to spend the winter. As many as 20 skunks have been found in one den, but the number is typically much fewer. Usually the mother and young den together, entering the den when the temperature reaches about 0° C." (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). They are not true hibernators (physiological hibernation), but enter a dormant state: "The winter reduction in surface activity, the retreat to a relatively warm den, and the winter depression in body temperature permit the striped skunk in the northern portion of its range to survive the winter relying exclusively on stored fat as an energy source, without resort to true physiological hibernation." (Graham and Mutch 1977).
Striped Skunks mate primarily in February and March in British Columbia and litters of 2-10 (average 6) young are born in May or early June (Hatler et al. 2008). The young weigh about 30 grams when born and are blind, with little fur (Hatler et al. 2008). They remain with their mother until the fall when they disperse.
Striped Skunks are omnivorous and have a varied diet that includes insects and other invertebrates, frogs and small mammals, birds eggs, and plants (including nuts and grains) (Wikipedia 2011). Waterfowl nest predation by skunks is common (Lariviere and Messier 1997).
Striped Skunks mostly forage between dusk and dawn. If they feel threatened they will growl and hiss and stamp their feet on the ground (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). If the threat continues, they will spray to drive away the threat. To spray, the skunk will turn in a U-shaped position so that both its head and tail face the threat. It then directs fluid from the glands located at the base of the tail, and this disperses into a fine spray that can travel up to 6m (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011). The odour of skunk spray can carry on the wind for up to 1 km (Canadian Wildlife Service 2011).
Although we are familiar with the Striped Skunk because it forages around our homes, it is found in a variety of habitats. These include forest edges and openings, meadows, and around streams, lakes and ponds (Hatler et al. 2008). During the day Striped Skunks will use den sites to rest and shelter from the weather and from predators (Hatler et al. 2008).
The Striped Skunk is found throughout North America, north to the southern edges of the Northwest Territories; it is not found in the deserts of Nevada and southern California, or northern Mexico (Hatler et al. 2008)
Distribution in British Columbia
In British Columbia, the Striped Skunk is most common in the southern half of the province; it does not occur on coastal islands (Hatler et al. 2008). Research has shown that 75% of BC's Striped Skunks are found the lower Fraser Valley, 13% in the Thompson-Okanagan, and 6% in the Kootenays (Hatler et al. 2008).
Although not verified by genetic work, two subspecies of Striped Skunk are recognized in British Columbia: 1) Memphitis memphitis hudsonica (mainland regions east of the coast mountains) and 2) Memphitis memphitis spissigrada (lower Fraser Valley) (Hatler et al. 2008).
In the eastern parts of its North American range, the Striped Skunk is a carrier of rabies.
Canadian Wildlife Service. 2011. Striped Skunk. Mammal Fact Sheets. Hinterland Who's Who. Available online.
Hatler, David F., David W. Nagorsen and Alison M. Beal. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum Handbook, Victoria.
Lariviere,Serge and Francois Messier. 1997. Characteristics of Waterfowl Nest Depredation by the Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis): Can Predators Be Identified From Nest Remains? American Midland Naturalist 137 (2): 393-396.
Mutch, Graham R. P. and Michael Aleksiuk 1977. Ecological aspects of winter dormancy in the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Canadian Journal of Zoology 55:(3) 607-615.
Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2019. E-Fauna BC:
Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab
for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed:
2020-07-10 3:40:02 AM]
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