Written By: Aleidys Lopez Romero
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Perhaps you can recall a time when you were young, snuggled up on your couch with a cup of hot chocolate as you fixate your eyes on the charming Warner Bros cartoon character, Pepé le Pew. While we at Sky Island Alliance do not tend to be snuggled up on our couches with cups of hot chocolate (although we would love to be), we do share that childhood excitement of watching Pepé le Pew upon spotting a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) on our Border Wildlife Study camera traps.
Striped skunks, true to their name, have two thick white stripes that converge at their foreheads forming a “Y” shape. These white stripes are starkly contrasted by the skunk’s pitch black coat. Standing at about the size of a housecat, these skunks have small triangular heads and stubby legs. While short legs are no match for speedy predators, the striped skunk’s blindingly foul anal gland secretions usually do the job. Striped skunks can spray predators with their stinky secretions as far as twelve feet (3.7m)! Luckily for most people, skunks are nocturnal and they tend to be inactive, although not fully hibernating, in the winter months. Nonetheless, these solitary animals can be found in every U.S. state except Alaska and Hawaii.
Striped skunks are primarily insectivores often feeding on grasshoppers and crickets in the abundance of the warm months, but the unforgiving temperatures of winter force them to switch to a heftier diet of small mammals, amphibians, and eggs.
These versatile creatures prefer open land areas such as agricultural lands and desert plains, but they also seem to have adapted to urban environments. While their presence in urban spaces may increase your chance of seeing (or perhaps smelling) a striped skunk, they spend most of their day in abandoned dens of other mammals and come out to eat at night. In the cold winter months they prefer the warmth of underground dens.
Striped skunks are nocturnal so most camera trap sightings show them at night which can make it tricky to distinguish them from similar skunk species.
The striped skunk’s biggest threats are severe weather, disease, and human hunting practices. Rabies has heavily affected striped skunk populations in many states (Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute). Gladly, the now-dwindling practice of using animal fur for fashion has decreased demand for skunk fur and thus harvesting skunks for fur is much less common now.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute