Photo Credit: Jean Taylor

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Rehab criteria: If you see a baby skunk (or a line of baby skunks, nose-to- tail) running around without a mother in sight, they could be orphaned. Skunks have poor eyesight, so if something scares the mother and she runs off, the babies can quickly lose sight of her.

Monitor the situation to see if the mother rejoins their young. If the babies are on the move, put on gloves and slowly place a plastic laundry basket (with lattice sides) over the babies to keep them in one spot and make it easier for the mother to find them. Do not put a weight on top of the laundry basket. 

If the mother returns to her young, she will flip up the basket and get them. If she has trouble doing this, you should lift the basket to let them out. Remember that skunks are very near-sighted, so fast movements can startle them into spraying. If you move slowly and speak softly though, you will not get sprayed. Skunks warn potential predators by stamping their front feet when they’re alarmed, so if the mother doesn’t do this, you’re safe to proceed. If no mother comes to retrieve the young by dawn, contact us for assistance.

*Potential to carry rabies.

When rescuing small wild animals, it’s a good idea to wear gloves. Be aware, however, that gloves provide only a small amount of protection, and that most mammals can easily bite through them. Raccoons, skunks, bats and some foxes are more likely than other mammals to carry rabies, but any wild animal may carry the disease. There are a number of other serious or fatal diseases that can be transmitted to humans, so you must take care that the animal doesn’t bite you.

Do not handle skunks with bare hands as the rabies virus can enter a cut or open wound on your skin. This can also result in the animal(s) being euthanized and tested for rabies.

Physical Characteristics: Skunks are small, black and white, furry animals about the size of a house cat. The skunk has a white stripe that generally runs from its head to its tail and often breaks into two strips down its back; some skunks appear to have spots as well. Each skunk has a unique stripe pattern and variation of the amount of white that runs down its back. This pattern serves as warning sign to anyone who may want to bother or harm this animal. It has a small triangular head with little ears. It has short legs  with sharp claws attached to webbed toes that are used for digging and searching out food. The size of a skunk fluctuates between 8-19 inches, their tails can add another 5-15 inches to their length. They weigh up to 13 pounds. They are widely known for their ability to spray dangerous predators with a foul-smelling fluid. The skunk is primarily nocturnal. It sleeps in its burrow during the day and hunts at night. It usually doesn't dig its own burrow. It looks for an abandoned burrow or finds a natural hollow under a tree or building. 
Lifespan: Average lifespan of a wild skunk is 2-3 years; if there is adequate nutrition and shelter they can survive 10-15 years.

Habitat: The striped skunk prefers to live in areas with a mix of habitats like woods and grasslands or meadows. It is usually never further than two miles from water.  They have successfully adapted to living in urban areas as well.

Diet: Skunks are omnivorous, eating insects, small mammals, fish, fruits, nuts, leaves, grasses, and even carrion (dead animals). They will also forage through human trash to find scraps of food. One of their favorite foods to eat is yellowjackets, they will dig up the nest and eat the bees as they escape.

Family Life: Skunks mate from mid-February to mid-March. The babies are born about two months later. An average skunk litter has five to six babies. Skunk babies are blind and deaf when they are born. They will nurse in the den for about a month and a half. After they leave the den they may stay with their mother for up to a year. 

Predators: There are very few predators for skunks because of their defense mechanism. Great horned owls are the biggest predator of skunks as they have limited sense of smell.

Other Significant Threats: Dogs, cats, humans

Special Considerations/Interesting Facts: When a skunk is threatened it will attempt to escape. If escape is not possible, it will arch its back and raise its tail while turning its back on the predator; skunks will usually “stomp” its feet prior to spraying the predator with a pungent fluid. This fluid will sting the eyes of the predator usually giving the skunk an opportunity to escape.