Species: Mephitis mephiti
General Description The striped skunk is a cat-sized mammal. The most common member of the Mustelidae family, it is easily recognized by its characteristic thick, glossy black fur and the white stripe that extends posteriorly from its head to its bushy tail. It has a small head and short legs with plantigrade feet. Striped skunks vary in weight from 1.4 kg – 6.3 kg and in length from 540 mm – 775 mm, with the tail being 175 mm – 280 mm. Males are generally 10% larger than females. They are best known for their unique odour (Mephitis is Latin for bad odour). Although not an aggressive animal, when provoked both sexes release musk from well-developed scent glands located on either side of the anus at the base of the tail. At close range, the strong odour causes severe tearing of the eyes and, in some cases, nausea.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat Requirements The presence of the striped skunk is completely restricted to North America. They are found throughout mainland New Brunswick, but are not found on Grand Manan Island. Although they prefer semi-open areas with woodland, brushland and open fields, striped skunks have a high tolerence for humans. They frequently forego their usual den habitat and occupy abandoned buildings or move under houses.
General Biology Striped skunks are omnivorous but are more insectivorous than any other carnivore in New Brunswick. They feed on small mammals such as rats (Rattus spp.), mice (Peromyscus spp.), vegetable matter, but the majority of their diet consists of insects and other invertebrates they dig up with their fore claws. In the fall skunks acquire a layer of fat and by early December, they begin a winter sleep that is not a true hibernation. They will become active during mild periods and inside the den have between one and three 10 minute activity periods per day. They breed in late February or early March. After a pregnancy of approximately 63 days, the female gives birth to a litter containing 4-6 young. Musk glands are functional in the young at about 28 days of age.
Conservation The striped skunk has secure conservation status. The average life span is 10 years, but few live beyond three years. Mortality occurs from a variety of sources including predation, disease, roadkill and farm machinery. Although once and important pelt, the striped skunk is currently of minor importance to the fur trade. Their main predators are Great horned owls and bobcats. Skunks are known to be major carriers of the rabies virus and therefore, tend to be a focus in disease management projects.