In North America there are four different species of skunks: hooded, hog nosed, spotted and striped. The most common type in Canada is the striped skunk. Skunks are a member of the weasel family and are nocturnal. During the night skunks come out to feed on both plants and other animals being omnivores. Some common foods for skunks are insects, larvae, small mammals, the roots, leaves and berries of plants, as well as human garbage. This can be a nuisance as they will dig up lawns and gardens to find their food. Skunks are not picky eaters, they will eat almost anything they can find or catch. At the other end of the food chain, predators of skunks could be great horned owls, coyotes or even dogs. While skunks have excellent hearing and sense of smell, they have poor sight which makes them very vulnerable to be hit by vehicles.
If you ever see a skunk, there is no need to be alarmed as long as you keep your distance. In general skunks are easy going and avoid people and other animals. However, they may become vicious when provoked or harmed. A skunk’s reaction to fear is perhaps one of their most well known characteristics and is also the most useful: their smell. Skunks have two anal glands under their tail that they will use to spray an incredibly foul odour when they are injured, frightened or mating. This stench which is so unpleasant for the rest of us is an important protective measure for skunks. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get rid of once sprayed.
Skunks have a moderate body length; fairly short, strong legs; large clawed paws and a long bushy tail. The different species of skunks may have different colour patterns but they all share the same bold colouring: black and white. It is also possible to see brown, gray or rarely a cream coloured skunk. These bold colours are not meant for camouflage, their purpose is to warn and ward off predators. The most common pattern seen is that of striped skunks. They have two vertical white stripes going down the back, starting at the back of the head. Striped skunks are roughly the same size as a house cat. They can measure around thirty to forty centimetres and weigh fifteen to eighteen pounds.
Naturally skunks will live in clearings, pastures or other open areas bordering forests and will find their dens in hollow logs or they will burrow one into the ground. As the human population grows closer and closer to wildlife, skunks have learned to adapt to the urban environment quite easily. During the winter skunks find dens and stay there becoming mostly inactive. Being the adaptive animals they are, skunks will find many possible places for dens in and around your home. Some common places skunks will take up residence are under barns, sheds, porches and decks. Because skunks like to burrow out their dens there is a risk that they will damage the infrastructure of what they choose to burrow under; which is any area that will make a dark and secure hiding place. Skunks will stay within two to five kilometres of their den. The average home range for a female is two to five square kilometres, while a male can cover up to twenty square kilometres.
Generally skunks are solitary animals. However this changes during the breeding season when several families may congregate in a single den site. The mating season is all throughout late February and early March. Sixty-four days is the average gestation period for skunks. Their young, called kits are born in late April to early May. On average a mother skunk will have four to seven kits once a year. After approximately six weeks the kits will be ready to venture out into the world and learn how to find food for themselves. A skunk’s life is fairly short; fewer than 10% live beyond three years however it is possible for them to live for up to ten years.