The striped skunk is easily identified by its shiny black coat and bushy tail, with a white stripe on its forehead, a white crown on its head, and two stripes that extend down either side of its back. The striped skunk is found throughout Minnesota but is not common in the northeastern part. It is less likely to be found in areas of dense forest and swampy areas, and it favors environments where there is a concentration of small rodents. Striped skunks live in dens, which they usually dig themselves, although in the summer they may choose another convenient shelter. In about mid-November, they den up for the winter. They do not hibernate, but rather they become inactive during cold weather and may come out in spells of warm weather.
Striped skunks are nocturnal. As adults they are solitary except at mating time and at winter denning time, when several adults may share a den. They are omnivorous, and their diet includes insects, small mammals, eggs and young birds, amphibians, snails, crayfish, fruits and berries, nuts and carrion.
Skunks are well known for their ability to defend themselves by spraying a strong, repellent liquid from their anal glands. They have few natural predators, except for the great horned owl, but domestic dogs running loose, unaware of the significance of the skunk's flashy black and white colors, may become victims of the skunk's spray if they chase or attack it.
Before spraying, skunks will face the intruder and stamp their front feet. They will sometimes also charge a few paces towards the intruder and then retreat. If they continue to be threatened, they will turn their rear toward the intruder with tail raised and spray. While spraying is their primary defense, they will also bite if an intruder makes direct contact.
Striped skunks mate in late February or March, and the young are born in May. There are usually four to six young in a litter. They become independent in about 12 weeks.
Unfortunately, this valuable and beautiful creature is also a potential carrier of rabies. For this reason, they may be admired from a distance, but people should avoid all contact with them. Children should be specially warned not to approach them, and dogs must be controlled when skunks are known to be present.
A skunk may choose a denning site near human habitation, if that site is attractive as a source of food or shelter. While some people may be willing to share their area with a skunk and be grateful for its contribution to rodent and insect control, others may not. Forcibly removing a skunk will not solve the problem, because if the location continues to be attractive, another may move in. Rather, some common sense precautions should be taken to discourage wild animals from being attracted to an inappropriate site. Pet food and garbage should be secured in metal bins with lockable lids, open compost piles should be located away from the house and outbuildings or replaced by secure compost bins, holes and crawl spaces under houses or outbuildings should be sealed. On farms, manure piles should be located away from livestock yards and barns, and all livestock food should be stored in areas secure from wild animals. Rodent control is part of good livestock husbandry, and it should discourage skunks from moving in as well.
The Animal Humane Society, Golden Valley location, provides care for all wild animals except skunks. We will provide phone advice for skunk situations. If you need further advice or assistance you may call the Wildlife Exam at (763) 489-2223.