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How Do Skunk Families Live?

Striped skunks are usually solitary animals, meaning that they live alone. Skunks only interact with each other during winter, when they are mating, or when a mother is taking care of her new babies. Adult skunks are generally quiet animals, but young skunks tend to be more playful and make more noises. The skunk’s biggest form of communication is stamping its feet, which indicates that it is upset. Other noises a skunk will make are hisses, growls, screeches, grunts, squeals, and the clicking of its teeth.

What Is Their Life Cycle?

Skunks are polygamous animals that breed in late winter, usually in February and March. On average, the female will carry the babies for about 60 to 75 days before giving birth to a litter of four to six baby skunks, known as kits. The mother skunk raises her babies alone for about eight months before they are ready to go off on their own. Male skunks do not stay to help raise the kits, and some have even been known to kill their own young.

When striped skunks are born, they are mostly pink with faint black and white traces and very little to no fur. The baby skunks are completely blind and do not open their eyes until they are three weeks old. The kits produce musk when they are only eight days old, but they are unable to spray intruders until they reach about three weeks old. They will leave the den and venture out with their mother for the first time when they are between six and eight weeks old. Striped skunks reach sexual maturity at a year old, and it is at this age that they are finally ready to leave their mother. Skunks generally live to be two or three years old in the wild, but they may live up to ten years in captivity.

How Do Striped Skunks Spend Their Time?

Skunks are nocturnal animals, meaning they are active from dusk to dawn. After sleeping the days away in its den, a skunk spends its nights searching for food. If a skunk is seen during the day, it is usually assumed that it has rabies, but mother skunks will search for food for their babies in the daylight if it is absolutely necessary. If a skunk does have rabies, some common signs include aggressive behavior, drooling, paralysis, stumbling, and little to no effort of concealing itself.

When winter comes, six or seven females will share a den together. Generally males spend the winters alone, but they may board with the females. Although skunks are not true hibernators, they spend much of their time sleeping during the winter. During his temporary hibernation, commonly known as a state of torpor, skunks’ body temperature lowers and their breathing rate and metabolism slow down drastically. Animals in torpor are able to wake much more easily than those in hibernation, so the skunks may wake up every few weeks or after a month or two, rather than sleeping through the whole winter. Skunks drift in and out of this deep sleep for about a 100 day period, relying on body fat and sharing body heat with the others to stay warm. If a skunk wakes up on a warmer day, it may decide to search for food before returning to its state of torpor. When the winter is over, mating season begins and skunks begin living normally once again.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.