|Mephitis mephitis (Schreber)|
Don Linzey & Christy Brecht
Wytheville Community College
Wytheville, Virginia 24382
Last updated: 26 November, 2005
- Adult total length:
21 - 29 in. (550 - 750 mm)
7 - 12 in. (175 - 300 mm)
- Hind foot:
2 1/8 in. - 3 1/8 in. (54 - 78 mm)
3 - 10 lbs. (1.3 - 4.5 kg)
The striped skunk is the larger and more common of the two
skunks inhabiting the park. This short-legged, housecat-sized
mammal is black with a narrow white stripe running up the
middle of the forehead and a broad white area on the nape of
the neck that usually divides into a V at about the shoulders.
The resulting two white stripes may continue to the base of
the bushy tail. The white stripes show considerable variation.
In some animals, they are broad and well defined; in others,
they are absent. The striped skunk has a relatively small
head with short-rounded ears, small eyes, and a pointed muzzle.
Two large musk glands are located at the base of the tail.
The striped skunk ranges from the southern Yukon and Northwest
Territories in Canada south throughout the United States and into Mexico.
left lateral view of
skull and mandible
dorsal view of skull
ventral view of skull
These animals inhabit old fields and brushy areas as well as sparsely
wooded regions. Agricultural areas with their mix of open cropland and
brushy or wooded edges provide ideal habitat. Komarek and Komarek
(1938) noted that the striped skunk was generally
distributed throughout the mountains but was probably more commonly
associated with the open fields and cut-over woodlands of the lower
elevations. Goldsmith (1981) reported a resident
skunk population of 31(plus or minus 4) skunks in the Cades Cove
campground and picnic area. Drainage culverts in the campground were
used extensively as den sites from July through October.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
This species is widely distributed throughout the park up
to 5,200 feet elevation but is most common in the open
fields and cutover woodlands of the lower elevations.
- Blount Co.:
Cades Cove (1,800 feet); Spence Field (5,000 Feet).
- Sevier Co.:
Little River Road, 1 mile below Elkmont (2,000 feet);
Sugarlands (2,000 feet); Greenbrier Cove (2,700-3,000
feet); Indian Gap (5,200 feet).
- State (Tenn. - N.C.) line:
Newfound Gap (5,045 feet).
- Haywood Co.:
Walnut Bottom; Pin Oak Gap.
- Swain Co.:
Smokemont; Mingus and Cooper Creek Divide (3,500 feet).
Female striped skunks normally produce a single annual litter of
4 to 7 (range 3-10) young in the spring following a gestation of
59 to 77 days. The young are born in a nest of dry leaves within
the den. Newborn young have their eyes and ears closed, have well-
developed claws, and have a fine covering of hair in which the
adult pattern is evident. The eyes open at 22 to 35 days, while
the ears open between 24 and 27 days. Young skunks nurse for 6 to
7 weeks, after which they emerge from the den and begin following
their mother on her nightly foraging trips. The young usually
remain with the mother until late summer when they disperse. Young
skunks begin breeding at one year of age.
In the wild, striped skunks may live for five the six years
- Terrestrial Ecology
Striped skunks are primarily solitary, nocturnal mammals. They spend
the day in underground burrows, beneath abandoned buildings, in hollow
logs, or in wood piles. Although active individuals have been observed
in the park during every month, they may become dormant for prolonged
periods during severe winter weather. Unlike the eastern spotted skunk,
they are not good climbers.
Striped skunks are omnivorous and feed primarily on small rodents, eggs,
insects and their larvae, berries, and carrion. Birds and reptiles may
be taken occasionally. In February, 1935, a skunk was observed on Messer
Fork following a plow and eating grubs (Fleetwood,
1934-1935). On November 26, 1937, Stupka examined the stomach of an
individual found near Elkmont and noted the seeds and pulp of persimmon,
insect remains (grasshopper, Hemiptera, and larvae), and the feathers
of a small bird.
- Predators and Defense
Because of its well-known and effective defense mechanism, the
striped skunk is not molested by many animals. Palmer (1954) stated, however, that "practically every Horned
Owl in the skunk's range smells of skunk-one of its staple foods."
On two occasions in the park, Stupka noted great horned owls
(Bubo virginianus) which had a strong odor of skunk about them.
Komarek and Komarek (1938) recorded individuals
heavily infested with ticks (Ixodes sp.), lice
(Neotrichodectes sp.), and tapeworms (Oocharistica sp.,
Links to Other Sites
- Special Protection Status
- In Park:
All plants and animals are protected within
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Collection requires a permit which is usually
granted only for research or educational purposes.
- Map development
- Web page design & coding
- Denise Lim, University of Georgia, Athens
- John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens
Dragoo, J. W. and R. L. Honeycutt. 1997.
Systematics of mustelid-like carnivores.
Journal of Mammalogy 78 (2): 426-443.
Fleetwood, R. J. 1934-35.
Journal of Raymond J. Fleetwood, wildlife technician,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for the period May 27,
1934-June 27, 1935. 499 pp. (Typewritten).
Goldsmith, D. M. 1981.
The ecology and natural history of striped skunks in the
Cades Cove campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
Tennessee. Master's thesis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville,
Komarek, E. V., and R. Komarek. 1938.
Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bulletin of the
Chicago Academy of Science 5(6): 137-162.
Linzey, D. W. 1995a.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D. W. 1995b.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1):1-81.
Linzey, D.W. 1998.
The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia:
The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Palmer, R.S. 1954.
The Mammal Guide. Garden City, New York:
Doubleday and Co., Inc.
Stupka, A. 1935-63.
Nature Journal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
28 vols. (years) each with index. (Typewritten copy in
files of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
Wade-Smith, J. and B. J. Verts. 1982.
Mephitis mephitis. Mammalian Species No. 173:
1-7. American Society of Mammologists.
Last modified: 8 May, 2002