Photo: Baby striped skunks

Mother skunks give birth to litters of two to ten young each year, usually in May. The babies follow their mothers around for several months, leaving in late July or early August.

Photograph by Gordon and Cathy Illg/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes

Map

Map: Skunk range

Skunk Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Omnivore
Average life span in the wild:
3 years
Size:
Head and body, 8 to 19 in (20 to 48 cm); tail, 5 to 15 in (13 to 38 cm)
Weight:
7 oz to 14 lbs (198 g to 6 kg)
Group name:
Surfeit
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Skunk compared with adult man

Skunks are legendary for their powerful predator-deterrent—a hard-to-remove, horrible-smelling spray. A skunk's spray is an oily liquid produced by glands under its large tail. To employ this scent bomb, a skunk turns around and blasts its foe with a foul mist that can travel as far as ten feet (three meters).

Skunk spray causes no real damage to its victims, but it sure makes them uncomfortable. It can linger for many days and defy attempts to remove it. As a defensive technique, the spray is very effective. Predators typically give skunks a wide berth unless little other food is available.

There are many different kinds of skunks. They vary in size (most are house cat-sized) and appear in a variety of striped, spotted, and swirled patterns—but all are a vivid black-and-white that makes them easily identifiable and may alert predators to their pungent potential.

Skunks usually nest in burrows constructed by other animals, but they also live in hollow logs or even abandoned buildings. In colder climates, some skunks may sleep in these nests for several weeks of the chilliest season. Each female gives birth to between two and ten young each year.

Skunks are opportunistic eaters with a varied diet. They are nocturnal foragers who eat fruit and plants, insects, larvae, worms, eggs, reptiles, small mammals, and even fish. Nearly all skunks live in the Americas, except for the Asian stink badgers that have recently been added to the skunk family.

Mammal Features

  • Photo: Close-up of an African lion

    Animal Conservation

    Find out what National Geographic Society is doing to save animals all over the world, and learn what you can do to help.

  • hawaiian-monk-critter-cam.jpg

    Crittercam Helps Study Rare Species

    The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the oldest species of seal on the planet. But their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end; only about 1,100 seals remain in the wild.

  • Masai Mara Lion

    Lions Quiz

    The king of cats rules with a roar and a fierce bite. What else do you know about this top predator?

  • Photo: Lion bares his teeth

    Cause an Uproar

    Big cats are quickly disappearing. Now is the time to act. Cause an uproar to save big cats today.

Animals