Mephitis mephitis
(Schreber, 1776)

me-fI-tis me-fI-tis

An adult Striped Skunk

The Striped Skunk is about the size of a house cat with a stocky body; short legs, the hind limbs appearing longer than the forelimbs; front toes equipped with long, recurved claws whereas the rear toes have short, straight claws; long, glossy black fur which covers the entire animal except for a white stripe from the tip of the nose to the forehead; a white patch on the back of the head that extends to the shoulders as a single stripe and then divides into two lines of variable length; and a long, bushy, black tail usually tipped with white hairs.

Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 575-800 mm; length of tail 190-380 mm; length of hind foot 59-85 mm; length of ear 25-35 mm; weight 1.5 to 5.0 kg. Males average about 15% larger than females.

The dental formula is incisors 3/3, canines 1/1, premolars 3/3, molars 1/2.

Striped Skunks are not apt to be confused with any mammals except other skunks. The Eastern and Western Spotted Skunks (only the former of which occurs in Kansas) differ from the Striped Skunk in being smaller and having at least 4 horizontal stripes on the upper back, plus several vertical stripes across the hindquarters. The Hooded Skunk (which also does not occur in Kansas) has a longer tail and dorsal stripes that do not converge to a V at the nape. Hog-nosed Skunks (one species of which might occur in Kansas but has not been documented) differ from the Striped Skunk in having an elongated, hairless nose. 

The distribution of the Striped Skunk extends from southern Canada across the United States (except in the most arid areas of the Desert Southwest) into northern Mexico. The species occurs throughout Kansas, where it is the best known and most frequently encountered member of the order Carnivora. The abundance and distribution of the species evidently was not adversely affected by settlement and agricultural development of the state. 

Striped Skunks probably originated in the Paleocene or Eocene, although no fossils assignable to true skunks have been found in deposits earlier than the late Miocene. Fossils are available from the late Miocene and early Pliocene of Europe, the early Pliocene of Asia, from the early Pliocene to the present time in North America, and from the Pleistocene to the present time in South America. Mephitis appeared in the early Pleistocene of Nebraska and was widely distributed in the United States by the time of the Wisconsinan glaciation. 

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
Open icons are questionable records; Click on a marker to view details.
  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 512 Total Records 
  • 404 Museum Vouchers 
  • 108 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Allen (1); Anderson (1); Atchison (1); Barber (1); Barton (1); Butler (7); Chase (3); Chautauqua (1); Cheyenne (2); Clark (1); Cowley (6); Crawford (1); Decatur (5); Dickinson (1); Douglas (187); Edwards (2); Ellis (9); Ellsworth (3); Finney (3); Ford (2); Franklin (1); Gove (8); Gray (1); Greenwood (22); Harper (2); Harvey (3); Haskell (1); Hodgeman (1); Jefferson (1); Jewell (3); Johnson (1); Labette (1); Lane (1); Leavenworth (4); Lincoln (3); Logan (8); Lyon (3); Marion (3); Marshall (1); McPherson (7); Meade (10); Miami (2); Montgomery (2); Morton (8); Nemaha (1); Neosho (2); Ness (1); Norton (1); Osage (1); Osborne (2); Pawnee (2); Phillips (6); Pottawatomie (4); Pratt (3); Rawlins (6); Reno (3); Rice (1); Riley (1); Rooks (2); Rush (4); Saline (8); Scott (2); Sedgwick (2); Seward (1); Shawnee (1); Sheridan (1); Stafford (3); Stanton (2); Sumner (2); Thomas (2); Trego (12); Unknown (88); Wabaunsee (1); Wallace (2); Wilson (3); Woodson (2); Wyandotte (1);

Natural History:
This highly adaptable species can be found in almost all habitats in its range and reaches its greatest abundance in agricultural areas. They are almost exclusively nocturnal, becoming active shortly after sundown, foraging at various times during the night, and returning to their dens before daybreak. They do not hibernate, but they remain within their dens during especially cold weather. During these periods of inactivity, Striped Skunks use much of the body fat they accumulated during summer and autumn. Striped Skunks usually are solitary, but in winter communal denning of several females or of several females and one male are common. Striped Skunks excavate their own dens, but occupy dens dug by woodchucks, foxes, or badgers when available. Dens usually have one or two entrances to a single tunnel, and a nest area 0.5 to 1.5 m below the ground. Striped Skunks are not aggressive and generally seem oblivious to conspecifics and other animals. Threat postures and defensive behaviors are in response to being cornered by an intruder. Handstands and foot stamping result and, if the intruder persists, the skunks discharge their foul musk at the intruder. Skunks can hit human-sized targets at a distance of 6 m, but their accuracy is better at 3 m. The musk is an intense irritant to the eyes and acts as a depressant to the central nervous system. 

Striped Skunks live as long as 10 years in captivity but rarely longer than 5 or 6 years in the wild. 

Striped Skunks are insectivorous, but they are sufficiently opportunistic to take advantage of a great variety of other foods as they become available. These alternative foods include carrion, crayfish, small vertebrates, eggs of ground-nesting birds, fruits, and corn. About 80-90% of their diet is of animal origin. 

Judging from all the dead skunks seen along roads, the greatest source of mortality almost certainly is automobiles. Farm equipment also take a toll. Predators that prey on Striped Skunks include Great-horned Owls, Cougars, Coyotes, badgers, foxes, and Bobcats. Mammalian predators generally leave skunks alone except when near starvation, but avian predators are not repelled by musk. 

Striped Skunks breed in February and March. Females in estrous remain receptive until ovulation, which is induced by copulation. If a female does not become pregnant, she may enter estrous again in May. Gestation lasts from 59 to 77 days. Parturition usually occurs in May or early June. Litters range from 2 to 10 young and average 6 or 7. The kittens are born sparsely-haired with their eyes and ears closed. Their ears and eyes open about 3 or 4 weeks after birth. Their anal scent glands contain musk at birth, but kittens do not develop control of them until they are 2 or 3 weeks old. They begin to eat solid food at about 6 or 7 weeks, and they leave the den to forage with the female beginning at about 8 weeks. The kittens are weaned at 8 to 10 weeks, and disperse from the burrow when they are 12 to 14 weeks old, usually moving only a short distance to find a suitable denning site. Females are capable of breeding at 10 months of age.

Occurrence Activity:
Three subspecies of Mephitis mephitis have been recognized in Kansas: Mephitis mephitis avia in northeastern Kansas south to Anderson County and west to Harvey County, Mephitis mephitis mesomelas in southeastern Kansas north to Greenwood County and west to Sedgwick County, and Mephitis mephitis varians in the western two-thirds of the state. Adding to this complexity is the fact that all Striped Skunks from the northern Great Plains south to the Kansas state line are referred to as yet another subspecies, Mephitis mephitis hudsonica. It seems unlikely that these named populations represent more than minor variation in size or color patterns that may not have any evolutionary significance. 

1952 Cockrum, E. L. Mammals of Kansas. Univ. Kansas Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist. 7:1-303. ():
1982 Wade-Smith, J, and B. J. Verts Mephitis mephitis Mammalian Species 173():1-7
1999 Wilson, D. E., and S. Ruff Smithsonian Institution Press, Washsington, DC. 1-750pp.
2008 Timm, R. M., G. R. Pisani, J. R. Choate, N. A. Slade, G. A. Kaufman, and D. W. Kaufman, . pp.
Account Last Updated:
11/19/2019 2:53:10 PM

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