Biology & Behavior
Skunks are members of the weasel family and possess one of the key family characteristics, scent glands. The 2 species of skunks presently inhabiting Utah are the striped and spotted skunk. Both are omnivorous, their diet varying from insects, vegetation, and small rodents to bird eggs and garbage. Both species have 5 toes and claws on their front and hind feet that are adapted for digging. Skunks generally den in burrows of other animals, rock crevices, brush piles, or spaces under buildings, but they will sometimes dig their own burrows. Their home range averages 0.5 to 1.5 square miles but may increase up to 5 square miles during the breeding season. Skunks are nocturnal, reclusive animals. Extra caution should be used if a skunk is encountered during the daytime or it is extremely aggressive. This abnormal behavior maybe be an indication that the animal is rabid. Studies suggest that the occurrence of rabid skunks is highest during the breeding and parturition periods. Striped skunks can be found throughout Utah. They are similar in size to a house cat, weighing 4 to 10 pounds. Their bodies are black, except for a white stripe on the forehead and a wide area at the nape of the neck that divides into a “V” and runs along the back. Spotted skunks, although found in the Great Plains, are primarily seen in the mountains and canyons of Utah. They weigh only .08 to 2.2 pounds. The body of a spotted skunk is black, with a white spot on the forehead and under each ear. They have 4 to 6 broken stripes on the back and sides and a white-tipped tail. Skunks usually breed once a year, in February or March, and bear young in early May. Litter sizes vary from 2 to 10, depending on the species and age of the female. About 2 to 4 weeks after birth, the kits’ eyes open. Kits are able to spray musk about 45 days after birth. Bobcats, coyotes, great horned owls, and other animals prey on skunks, but not as a primary food source. Humans are the main predators of skunks. Skunks are harvested for their fur and eliminated when they are pests. Although skunks eat insects and rodents, they are pests when their activities conflict with human activities.
What Does a Skunk Sound Like?
While they’re usually silent, skunks do have the ability to produce a range of sounds. They can squeal, hiss, screech, whimper, grumble, smack their lips, and stomp loudly. These noises are used to communicate fear, pain, contentedness, or to intimidate predators. Additionally, the pests make snuffling sounds when they’re actively searching for food and scratching or rustling noises when burrowing.
Skunks walk with their feet flat to the ground. The feet of skunks have 5 toes on the front and 5 toes on the back. The tracks of the stripped skunks footprints appear like those of a miniature bear. The front feet have long claws that show up as dots well ahead of the toes. The rear feet have an enlarged heel pad that appears long and rectangular in shape in most sub-straits. The front heel pad is smaller and has a reduced additional pad which may show up as a single dot behind and center of the front heel pad.
Fronts: 1 5/8“ – 2 1/16“ x 1“ – 1 3/16“
Rears: 1 15/16“ – 2“ x 15/16“ – 1 3/16“
Stripped skunks can travel in a variety of gaits. They can travel across open expanses in a lope. While moving more slowly to search and area for food they can travel in walk, often an over step walk.
Skunks can be found across the continental United States and are known for their acrid, pungent odor and black and white stripes. Their musk, which is produced by a pair of anal scent glands, can be smelled over great distances. The bodily chemicals that produce the odor act as an irritant to multiple senses and may even lead to temporary blindness. Nocturnal and omnivorous, skunks eat many different foods, such as small insects, amphibians, rodents, and garbage.
Skunks destroy landscaping and undermine the structural integrity of buildings. They dig cone-shaped holes around lawns three to four inches in diameter when searching for food and burrow under structures. The pests also let their droppings accumulate around yards and leave behind unpleasant odors. Finally, skunks are known carriers of rabies, as well as additional pests like fleas, ticks, mites, and lice.