Mephitis – Striped & hooded skunk

Home of the largest skunks; can adapt to human-modified environments hence are quite abundant

These mammals are renowned not only for their striking black and white markings but also for their potent defense mechanism. Despite their small size, skunks are equipped with one of nature’s most effective deterrents against predators: musk-filled scent glands capable of emitting a noxious odor.

Mephitis includes two primary species: the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura). While both species share the family’s iconic coloration, there are noticeable differences in their appearance. The striped skunk, the more commonly recognized of the two, features two bold stripes that run along its back and converge at the head. In contrast, the hooded skunk has a longer tail and a fluffier, softer coat, often with a distinctive “hood” of fur around its neck. This variation in tail length and coat texture differentiates the species and reflects adaptations to their specific habitats and lifestyles.

The primary defense mechanism of these skunks is their ability to spray a highly odorous musk from their anal scent glands. This musk can cause irritation and temporary blindness in potential predators, allowing the skunk to escape. The potency of this spray, which the human nose can detect up to a mile downwind, is a testament to its effectiveness in deterring threats.

The striped skunk is predominantly omnivorous but leans heavily towards an insectivorous diet, feeding on a wide array of insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, and occasionally fruits and vegetables. The hooded skunk, while omnivorous, has a diet that includes a higher proportion of vegetation, fruits, nuts, insects, and small animals. This dietary flexibility allows both species to adapt to a variety of environmental conditions, playing crucial roles in their ecosystems as both predator and prey.

Historically, Mephitis species have had a complex relationship with humans. They have been hunted and consumed as food, and various parts of the skunk, including the gallbladder and scent glands, have been used in traditional folk medicine.