Photograph by Gordon and Cathy Illg/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes
- Average life span in the wild:
- 3 years
- Head and body, 8 to 19 in (20 to 48 cm); tail, 5 to 15 in (13 to 38 cm)
- 7 oz to 14 lbs (198 g to 6 kg)
- Group name:
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) 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.
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