Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 5 February 2010, was last revised on 23 April 2016. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 11:02(02).

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Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), foraging near a home in northwest Austin at 3:37AM in the morning, a time when skunks — which are nocturnally active in urban areas, but forage throughout the day and night in the wild — were often found foraging near this home. The crawl space under this home had been invaded by a number of wild animals, including skunks. After two incidents involving skunk odor inside the home, coming up from the crawlspace, the homeowner called us out to find a way to exclude the skunks and other wild animals so they would not suffer this problem in the future..

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is a medium sized skunk with a robust body whose black fur is divided, laterally, by a white stripe that extends from the proximal neck to the tip of its bushy tail. The genus  Mephitis (literally “stench”) is a member of the family Mephitidae, which consists entirely of animals that have the unique ability to spray musk from specialized anal scent glands for defensive purposes. By contrast, civit cats of various species throughout the world possess anal musk glands that are used to mark territories, but are not used as a means of defense.

Mephitis mephitis, a polygamous omnivore often associated with human, has few natural predators, except for birds of prey.It is stoutly-built, with short-limbs, a small, conical head and a long, heavily furred tail. Though adult males are 10% larger than females, both sexes measure 52–77 cm in length and weigh 1.8–4.5 kg (4.0–9.9 lb). The feet have bare soles, and ambulation is plantigrade, with toes and metatarsus flat on the ground (the way humans walk). The forefeet have five long, curved claws well adapted for digging; claws on the hind feet are shorter and straighter.

Fur color patterns vary, but usually consist of a black base with a white stripe that begins at the head and extends backward toward the tail, divides at the shoulders, and continues along the flanks to the rump and tail. Some have a white patch on the chest; others display white stripes on the outer surface of the front limbs. Brown or cream-colored mutations sometimes occur.

As with all skunks, the striped skunk has a pair of scent glands, positioned on each side of the anus. Each scent gland contains about 15 milliliters of oily, yellow-colored sulphur-containing musk, whose powerful odor has been likened to a mixture of perfume musk, garlic, burning sulfur, and sewer gas. The musk can be sprayed several meters and, when sprayed in the eyes, produces a temporary burning sensation.

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) foraging under a residential home's deck in a rural part of Hutto, Texas.

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) foraging under a residential home’s deck in a rural part of Hutto, Texas. Skunks had sprayed the family dog at this home twice in the past several weeks when the homeowner called, asking for help in ridding the yard of these animals. We believed the wood deck’s spacious crawlspace gave a number of wild animals a good place to sleep during the day. We advised the homeowner to take steps that would limit the ingress/egress routes to the underside of the deck and, after installing wildlife cameras at the sole remaining port to monitor wild animals entering and leaving here, we recorded the presence of this skunk and several other wild animals in the yard. Once the behavior patterns of these animals were tabulated it was possible to advise the homeowner on the best time to place the final seals on the deck boundaries, to keep wild animals out without trapping them inside the deck enclosure.

To the Cree and Ojibwe, the word shee-gawk means ‘skunk-land,” and was applied by them to the geographic area which, today, is the modern city of Chicago. Our English word “skunk” has its roots in the spoken tongues of the Abenaki and Huron native American tribes.. The animal was known as seganku by the Abenaki, and scangaresse by the Hurons.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Skunks, armadillos, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, bats, and other mammals often take up residence in the attics, basements, walls, and other portions of residential and commercial structures. Most home or business owners are not equipped to properly perform a mammal exclusion project at their homes or businesses. You may believe you are an exception to this rule, and it may be true. If, however, you don’t have the time or interest needed to (1) study all the legal/technical issues involved, (2) tackle all the mechanical habitat modifications, (3) obtain and properly use the protective gear needed to avoid injury from or contamination by the animal and its associated disease-causing organisms, (4) inspect for, find, and then seal all the ingress/egress ports in your home’s or business’s exterior, (5) clean up, disinfect, and remove the contaminants left behind by the animal, and (6) do all this within a reasonable time, you are no exception. In that case, what you need is a wildlife specialist with expertise in wild animal biology, removal, disinfecting and control. To find a qualified wildlife specialist in your local area (anywhere in North America), call Jerry RIGHT NOW at 512-331-1111.

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Questions? Corrections? Comments? BUG ME RIGHT NOW! Feel free to email  Jerry at jerry.cates@entomobiotics.com. You may also leave a comment in the space provided below.

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