Female skunks give birth to a litter of two to ten babies each year.
Female skunks give birth to a litter of two to ten babies each year.
Photograph by Don Johntson, All Canada Photos/Corbis

Skunk

Skunks live all over North and South America, in rural areas, suburbs, and the city. But if you see one, watch out!

Common Name:
Striped Skunk
Scientific Name:
Mephitis mephitis
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Omnivore
Group Name:
Surfeit
Average Life Span In The Wild:
3 years
Size:
Head and body: 8 to 19 inches; tail: 5 to 15 inches
Weight:
7 ounces to 14 pounds

You may not have seen a skunk in your neighborhood, but you've probably smelled one. Their smelly spray, called musk, is not easy to ignore!

The spray, which comes from two glands near the base of the skunk’s tail, can hit a target 12 feet (3.7 meters) away. If you are lucky, you may get a warning before being sprayed. If threatened, skunks stamp their front feet, lift their tail, and growl. Some species of skunk even spring into a handstand before spraying, which puts the skunk's warning markings on full display. If the person or animal doesn’t retreat, the skunk aims the spray at the eyes, allowing the skunk to escape. The spray can remain on its target for days.

Skunks are nocturnal, which means they search for food at night and sleep in dens lined with leaves during the day. Their favorite foods include fruit and plants, plus insects, bird eggs, small rodents, and birds. Birds like the great horned owl prey on skunks. Scientists believe it’s because the birds don’t have a very good sense of smell, which makes the skunk’s spray useless in an attack.