Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

Order: Carnivora

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • It is important to have some sort of dig box and hide box. Many skunks can be litter box trained.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: keeps their skunks outside year-round. They have a heated water bowl and heat shield for the winter, and misters, frozen granite blocks and fans in the summer. They’re housed on concrete and their nest boxes contain cardboard chips, shredded paper, newspaper or blankets, depending on the skunk and the season.
  • Lincoln Children’s Zoo: has an indoor and outdoor holding space. Concrete on the inside with a mulch substrate in the outside space. Typically sleeps in hide box all day but wakes up around meals times. Litter box stays in the same corner.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, striped skunks eat insects, grubs, small vertebrates (mice, frogs, etc.), eggs, carrion, and berries.
  • In settled areas, skunks can also forage off human garbage.
  • Zoo diet: lite cat food, fruit and veggies (no red pepper, steamed butternut squash), hard boiled egg and mealworms for enrichment (greensboro science center)
  • Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium skunk diet: fruit mix, vegetables, omnivore chow (2 per day), 50g bugs 2X/week (cockroaches, meal worms, snails, red wigglers, phoenix worms, wax worms, grasshoppers), canned 50g fish 2X/week, 50g chicken 3X/week. The skunk has three meals a day. We also supplement with Vita-skunk. We also only feed protein at the end of the day and produce in the first two feeds.
  • They tend to gorge on food and then vomit, by providing diet in some type of enrichment to help slow them down can take care of the vomit issue
  • Lincoln Children’s Zoo: fed three meals daily. AM/PM Mazuri omnivore chow with a vegetable with a type of protein (mealworms, superworms, crickets, or hardboiled egg) with PM. Midday receives some type of leafy green. Produce is reserved for training and limited in enrichment. Protein is also sometimes used in training. Receives a taurine supplement as part of PM.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Their nails can get really long, need to be trained for nail trims
  • Obesity. They are prone to get fat very easily. A lump at the base of the tail indicates that they are too fat; if you can feel vertebrae then the animal is too thin. You want to feel a smooth taper at the base of its tail.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: Our rabies policy states that if a handler is bitten (and blood is drawn) by a skunk, the handler must seek medical attention from a doctor. The animal is then placed on a 14-day quarantine and is checked daily by Zoo Hospital staff.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Very food motivated, will dig into anything to get diet out, such as paper towel tubes, paper bags, boxes
  • Can easily be harnessed trained so they can be walked for programs or exercise
  • Natural foragers so anything to simulate this behavior is important. This can also aid in keeping nails trimmed with a digging behavior.
  • Training to sit on back legs to show how they can swat insects out of the air is fun to showcase.
  • Food delivery via hand can be tricky since skunks can be very food motivated and have sharp little teeth.

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

Individual Identification

Programmatic Information

Transportation

Temperature Guidelines

Crating:

Tips on Presentation

  • Cincinnati Zoo: Holds our interpretive skunks while sitting down and allows visitors to touch their backs, provided they are showing no signs of stress. During school programs they are allowed to run around inside a “puppy pen”. We require all handlers to bring some sort of hide or shelter for the skunks to retreat to during the program.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: Also has trained skunks to run “A to B’s” and walk on hind legs across stage for presentations. They are leash and harness trained, which allows visitors to see them moving and digging.
  • Lincoln Children’s Zoo: walks down a ramp to presentation box and will be picked up and snuggles into your arms while holding. During special tours touching is allowed on her tail but not usually during large presentations.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Hand-reared are the best. Try to handle them as early as you can and often.
  • Skunks can tend to be bitey when playful so diverting them onto a toy instead of your hand.
  • Train them to wear a harness early on. PDZA has found a cat harness works well – Pet Safe Come with me Kitty harness works really well as it has a cinch-able neck has it clips on either side of the belt.
  • use tongs to directly deliver food items during training rather then by hand.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: We breed our interpretive skunks and allow them to be parent reared, though we go in once a week to handle the kits for the first several weeks, then handle them more frequently as they become more independent of their mother.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: We allow our skunks to enter their crates on their own and they can always choose not to go on a program. When on a program we open the top of the crate and pick them up from there.

Potential Messaging

  • Binghamton Zoo has discovered that their audiences love striped skunks, as most haven’t seen them up close. This is a non-touchable species, however, since it is a rabies vector.
  • Native species – they are nocturnal so people usually don’t see them but they are around – keep yards free of garbage, pet food, etc.,
  • Do not make good pets
  • They are illegal to have as pets in some states.
  • Defense mechanism
  • Eating pests around our homes.

Acquisition Information

  • There are very few zoos that breed skunks but many are acquired as orphans from wildlife rehabilitation centers.
  • Cincinnati has recently started a breeding program for AZA institutions.

Comments from the Rating System

  • Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: A favorite for most of the public (most people haven’t seen one up close) but untouchable due to being a rabies vector species.
  • CuriOdyssey: Clear messaging (defenses, habitats, adaptations, food web,) Handlers should have moderate experience, Easy to desensitize, about as easy to train as ferrets,
  • Greensboro Science Center: Great to work with and handle/train. However, rabies concern is always an issue with public contact and what should/shouldn’t be allowed. Our skunk is very lovable and wants to cuddle into your neck. We have tried harness training her so we can walk her, but she has slipped out of all harnesses that we have bought.
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: Somewhat difficult to train depending on the age of the individual. Impressive program animal, though.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

The striped skunk is widespread throughout North America. Its range includes south Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia as well as most of the continental United States and parts of northern Mexico. It can be found in elevations up to 1800 m but rarely above 4000 m. Skunks can be found in a number of habitats, including woodlands, grasslands and agricultural lands. The skunk has increased its range with the cutting of forests throughout North America.

Physical Description

  • triped skunks are one of many species of skunk. Their fur is black with a white stripe that begins as a triangular shape on the top of their head and splits into two stripes that travel down the sides of its back, merging again near the base of its tail.
  • Weight: 1.5 -12 pounds (median weight on ZIMS is 4.4-9 pounds)

Life Cycle

Breeding in the skunk mostly occurs from mid-February to mid-April A skunk breeds only once a year. Male skunks are polygamous and will mate with several females in succession. When encountering an female in estrous, a male will approach her from the rear and then smell and lick the vulva area. The male then grasps the female by the nape and then mounts and copulates with her. Once a female is impregnated she doesn’t allow any more copulations and will fight off any male that tries to mount her. However, females that lose their litters may mate again.

The young are born in May or early June. Skunks tend to have litters of 4 to 8 with 2 and 10 being extremes. The young are born hairless but have their striping pattern. By eight days, the young’s musk odor can be emitted. By 22 days, the young’s eyes open. Young skunks are weaned at eight weeks of age, and they will hunt their mothers before they disperse.

They live an average of 8-10yrs in captivity.

Behavior

The skunk is crepuscular. Beginning its search for food at dawn and dusk, . At sunrise, it retires to its den, which may be in a ground burrow, or beneath a building, boulder, or rock pile. While the male dens by itself, several females may live together. The striped skunk does not hibernate but instead goes into a dormant or semi-active state. Outside the breeding season, males are solitary and try to build fat reserves while females defend their maternity dens.

Threats and Conservation Status

Most predatory animals of the Americas, such as wolves, foxes and badgers, seldom attack skunks – presumably out of fear of being sprayed. The exception is the great horned owl—the animal’s only serious predator.

Did you know…

  • Striped skunks are the heaviest species of skunk, although not the longest.
  • There are 13 subspecies of striped skunk that are generally recognized

Photographs

Violet 2.JPG
Our lavender skunk enjoying exercise time and a hard-boiled egg.
albino skunk.JPG
Our albino baby’s debut.

Documents

Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

Top Photo: By Kevin Collins [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons