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Who Are Skunks?

Striped skunks are the black and white, bushy-tailed animals that are widely known for the foul-smelling musk they spray to ward off enemies. These animals are related to the mink and weasel, but are not as sleek and agile as their relatives.

There are 11 different species of skunks in all, with striped skunks being the most common species found in North America. Skunks are mammals that belong to the Carnivora order and share the Mephitidae family with stink badgers. Mephitidae means stench or foul-smell in Latin. The striped skunk can be classified in the Mephitis genus, which also includes the spotted skunk, and its genus name also means bad odor. Striped skunks, in particular, are scientifically known as part of the M. mephitis species.

How Are Skunks Classified?

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mephitidae
Genus: Mephitis
Species: mephitis

What Do They Look Like?

The size of a striped skunk is comparable to the size of a domesticated house cat, standing eight to ten inches tall and measuring up to 32 inches long from head to tail. The average weight of a striped skunk is between six and eight pounds; the males weigh anywhere from three to eleven pounds and the females weigh about two to eight pounds. While males are generally larger in size, females usually have a longer tail. A skunk has a small head, small ears, a rounded body, short legs, and a long, bushy tail. Striped skunks are covered in a thick black fur, with a white stripe that extends from the nose, splits into two stripes down the back, and ends at the base of the tail. At one time, skunks were very valuable in the fur industry for their thick, glossy fur.

What Are Their Senses Like?

Skunks are timid, non-aggressive animals that will not spray unless they have been provoked. As crepuscular creatures that mostly come out at dusk and dawn, having good hearing and a keen sense of smell is vital. They use these senses to detect predators and they also rely on their enhanced sense of smell to find food. Contrasting these strong senses, skunks have poor eyesight and they are only able to see two or three feet in front of them. Skunks have 34 teeth, including four pointy canine teeth, which allow them to devour a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates.

What Kind of Tracks Do They Make?

The skunk has four padded feet, each with five partially webbed toes that end with long, sharp claws. The long claws that striped skunks have are longer on the forefeet and more curved on the hind feet, giving them the ability to dig their homes and forage for food. This characteristic can be seen in skunk tracks because the claw marks are farther ahead of toe marks in the front tracks and closer to the toe marks in the rear tracks.

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