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What Is Their Place in Nature?

Striped skunks are considered to be on the “Least Concern” section of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While skunk population is very stable, the population densities of this animal vary widely. There may be anywhere from two to fifty skunks per square mile in the geographic regions where striped skunks are found.

What Do They Eat?

Striped skunks are omnivores, which are animals that eat both plants and other animals. A skunk’s diet mostly consists of insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers. When the number of insects is limited, skunks will also consume mice, rats, bird eggs, turtle eggs, earthworms, frogs, crayfish, fruits, berries, grain crops, and even garbage. In particular, the skunk will feed on mice, rats, bird eggs, turtle eggs, earthworms, frogs, crayfish, fruits, berries, and grain crops. Although most humans view skunks as a nuisance, they serve the beneficial purpose of controlling the mice and insect populations, both animals that destroy crops.

How Do Skunks Protect Themselves From Predators?

Because of its stature and flat-footedness, the skunk moves slowly, usually waddling as it travels from place to place. Skunks are unable to outrun their predators, reaching only ten miles per hour at their fastest speed. Because of their lack of speed, skunks do not try and outrun their attackers; instead, they rely on their rancid spray for protection. When a skunk feels threatened, it showers its enemy with musk, a yellow, oily liquid. This awful-smelling spray is released from its two anal scent glands, located under the tail. Although the musk is not permanently harmful, it is very hard to remove and it causes extreme discomfort, gagging, nausea, and (sometimes) temporary vision loss. The skunk’s spray is also very hard to remove and may take several days to be completely gone.

Before a skunk sprays an animal it feels threatened by, it displays several warning signs. The tail becomes raised and bristled and the skunk arches its back. If the enemy still does not back down, the skunk will stamp its feet on the ground and then finally will spray its hunter. Using muscles near the anal gland, the skunk can control the direction of the mist, which can reach between 10 and 15 feet away. The foul odor from the musk can reach up to a mile away! With a tablespoon amount of this liquid, the skunk is able to spray six times before it runs out. Then it must replenish its supply, which takes about ten days.
After being sprayed, the predator will either flee or will be hindered long enough from the effects of the stench that the skunk is able to escape. For this reason, spraying its enemies proves to be a very effective defense mechanism.

What Dangers Do Skunks Face?

Skunks only have one main predator, the Great Horned Owl. The owl swoops down from above the skunk so quickly that the skunk cannot detect its presence. Also, the Great Horned Owl has a poor sense of smell, which serves as an advantage because if the skunk were to spray, the owl would not be affected by the odor and would eat the skunk anyways. In contrast, animals such as foxes, wolves, bobcats, and other animals that may attempt to prey on the skunks are likely to retreat after suffering from the horrible stench.

Humans are responsible for about half of skunks’ deaths each year. Spraying dogs, digging holes, and creating their homes under houses and porches cause skunks to be seen as a nuisance. When skunks take part in these activities, wildlife control will resort to eliminating the skunks that are causing problems. Also, skunks have trouble seeing cars coming, due to their poor eyesight, which makes them easy targets for automobiles. Disease poses an additional danger for skunks, particularly rabies. Skunks are among the highest carriers of rabies.

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