If the skunk is easily recognized by its black fur and white stripes, it also presents an invisible characteristic: the nauseating odor that it diffuses in case of danger. Meeting with a mammal that smells very bad.
The skunk or skunk
The skunk (with one or two f) is a small mammal belonging to the family of mephitids. Also called skunk, the animal was once classified in the mustelid family with weasels, otters, minks and badgers. Genetic studies then proceeded to reclassify. Skunks are represented by about fifteen species divided into three kinds : Mephitis and Spilogale in North America and Conepatus in South America.
Small and large skunks
The skunk is dressed in black fur with two thin white stripes on the back. Some species show only a single thick band on the back and tail or a mixture of white spots and hatched stripes. The mephitid has a small head, elongated body, short legs, a pointed snout and a very bushy tail. Skunk dwarf spotted (the smallest of all) is between 12 and 34cm long and weighs up to 1kg. The skunk at pig nose, the largest, is 44 to 93 cm long and weighs up to 5 kg.
The smelly smell of the skunk
The skunk is known to smell very bad. Its smell comes from a thick liquid (musk), yellowish and oily, secreted by two glands located on either side of the anus at the base of the tail. When the skunk is in the presence of a threat potential, she contracts her two anal glands, rounds her back, directs her hindquarters and her head towards the enemy and sprinkles her foul-smelling secretions. The mammal can project its musk with precision up to 5 meters and several consecutive times. At close range, the skunk’s throw causes severe burns in the eyes, even nausea which disappears quickly.
The skunk, twilight and lonely
The skunk is not an animal aggressive and prefers to retreat from a man or an enemy of his size. When irritated, it utters growls or hisses and frantically taps the ground with its front paws as aintimidation. Rather home-like, the skunk spends its day in its burrow and begins to be active at dusk. She then makes food trips short, of a few hundred meters, then returns to his lodging. In the season of loves, the male sometimes agrees to travel 3 to 4 kilometers in search of a mate. Like many crepuscular animals, skunks possess a keen sense ofsmell andhearing, but their poor eyesight makes them very vulnerable to road traffic.
Moufette: a restricted territory
Skunks of the genus Mephitis – the most common – live exclusively on the American continent. They are mainly found in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The animal rarely digs its own burrow, preferring to take the abandoned dens by marmots, foxes or other mammals of similar size. Equipped in the fall with a thick layer of fat, the skunk does not hibernate but is activated very little during the winter when it plunges into a deep sleep until March. If the mammal is rather a homebody, it can also sleep in groups in the most cold of its range. Mephitids occupy home ranges of 2 to 4 km² for females and up to 20 km² for males.
Very varied menu for the skunk
Omnivorous, the skunk consumes animal and vegetable matter and adapts its diet according to the seasons. In the early evening, she leaves her burrow to search for food which consists of a wide variety of foods: insects (grasshoppers, crickets), larvae, earthworms, small rodents (mice), lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, eggs, moles, even carrion… It also feeds on fruits, berries, roots, leaves, herbs, mushrooms and nuts. The skunk is also a predator common to all bees, its thick fur protecting it from bites.
Quickly independent babies
Skunks mate in late February or March. After a period of gestation from 2 months, the female gives birth to 5 young on average. At birth, the pink-colored young are blind, measure approximately 13 cm for a weight of 30 g. Every two or three days, the mother changes them shelters by carrying them in her mouth. Newborns display a rapid growth : they open their eyes between 2 and 4 weeks and are able to use their anal glands for self-defense. Young people are weaned at 2 months and reach sexual maturity shortly before their first birthday.
The skunk, common species
Although his smelly secretions are a means of deterrence efficient, the skunk is the prey of large carnivorous such as the coyote, fox, puma, American badger, and lynx. The raptors (eagle, owl, great horned owl …), less sensitive than mammals with a foul odor, also attack skunks. The species, common throughout its North American range, has adapted to habitats occupied by human activity, which explains its presence in towns and farms. It is classified in “minor concern ” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Skunks can live 4-7 years in the wild and 10-15 years in captivity.