Mephitis mephitis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Mephitidae

Scientific Name: Mephitis mephitis (Schreber, 1776)
Common Name(s):
English Striped Skunk
Taxonomic Notes: While many authors have traditionally considered skunks a subfamily (Mephitinae) within Mustelidae, recent molecular evidence indicates that skunks do not lie within the mustelid family and should be recognised as a separate family, Mephitidae (Wozencraft 2005).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-03-01
Assessor(s): Helgen, K. & Reid, F.
Reviewer(s): Duckworth, J.W.
This species is listed as Least Concern as it is widely distributed in a variety of habitats including human altered habitats and has increased in abundance in many regions during recent years (Andren 1995, Kuehl and Clark 2002).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The species occurs throughout most of southern Canada from British Columbia, Hudson Bay, and Nova Scotia, throughout the United States and into northern Mexico (Walker 1964, Godin 1982, Honacki et al. 1982).
Countries occurrence:
Canada; Mexico; United States
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):1800
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Density estimates for Striped Skunk populations range from 0.7 to 18.5/km² but most are 1.8 to 4.8/km² (Bennitt and Nagel 1937, Jones 1939, Allen and Shapton 1942, Burt 1946, Verts 1967, Bailey 1971, Stout and Sonenshine 1974). Density levels reported fluctuated widely between years, possibly in response to outbreaks of diseases (Allen and Shapton 1942, Brown and Yeager 1943, Verts 1967). Skunk populations seemingly have high recruitment and turnover rates because 50 to 71% of Striped Skunks do not attain an age of 1 year (Verts 1967, Bailey 1971, Casey and Webster 1975). Because of removal of top predators (Soulé et al. 1988, Rogers and Caro 1998, Crooks and Soulé 1999), altered land use (Oehler and Litvaitis 1996, Donovan et al. 1997, Dijak and Thompson 2000), reduced harvest of skunks (Hamilton and Vangilder 1992), and perhaps other factors, populations of M. mephitis have increased in many regions during recent years (Andren 1995, Kuehl and Clark 2002).
Current Population Trend:Stable
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:There is no single well-defined land type that can be classed as skunk range. They live in a variety of habitats, such as woods, plains, and desert areas, but prefer open or forest-edge zones (Walker 1964). Striped Skunks are most abundant on agricultural lands where there is an ample supply of food and cover (Hamilton and Whitaker 1979). They also adapt to life in urban areas under houses and garages (Rue 1981, Rosatte 1986, Larivière et al. 1999). They have been known to inhabit poorly drained marsh areas (Mutch 1977). Although recorded up to 4,200 m, skunks usually are found from sea level to 1,800 m (Rue 1981). They are frequently found in suburban areas. Striped skunks are opportunistic omnivorous predatory feeders (Carr 1974). Their diet varies depending on season and geographic location. In most areas, they feed extensively on insects (usually grasshoppers and beetles) associated with grassland areas (as opposed to forests). However, when insects are not available (early spring, late fall), their diet shifts to small mammals, birds, or vegetation (Verts 1967).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: For information on use and trade, see under Threats.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Mephitis mephitis is vulnerable to a variety of mortality agents such as predation, disease, environmental conditions (e.g., severe winter or drought), chemicals, and anthropogenic activities (Rosatte and Larivière 2003, Hansen et al. 2004, Gehrt 2005). Another limiting factor on skunk populations is diseases such as rabies and the resultant control programmes (Sikes 1970). Terrestrial rabies apparently was the case for skunks in Illinois, where population fluctuations are closely tied to rabies outbreaks (Verts 1967). Striped Skunk pelts were considered valuable commodities in the fur trade in the first half of the 20th century, but their value and the number of skunks harvested for fur declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s as fashions shifted away from long-haired furs (Verts 1967). Striped Skunks may be harvested in most areas of the United States and Canada. In some states, such as Florida, skunks may be taken only in season, but most states allow harvests year-round (Rosatte 1987).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Given the ecological and economic importance of this species, there is a need for a better understanding of microhabitat factors that are associated with its occurrence (Baldwin et al. 2004).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.4. Shrubland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.1. Artificial/Terrestrial - Arable Land
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.2. Artificial/Terrestrial - Pastureland
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.3. Artificial/Terrestrial - Plantations
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.4. Artificial/Terrestrial - Rural Gardens
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.5. Artificial/Terrestrial - Urban Areas
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2. Droughts
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.3. Temperature extremes
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Allen, D. L. and Shapton, W. W. 1942. An ecological study of winter dens, with special reference to the eastern skunk. Ecology 23: 59–68.

Andren, H. 1995. Effects of landscape composition on predation rates at habitat edges. In: L. Hansson, L. Farig and G. Merriam (eds), Mosaic landscapes and ecological processes, Chapman & Hall, London, UK.

Bailey, T. N. 1971. Biology of striped skunks on a southwestern Lake Erie marsh. The American Midland Naturalist 85: 196–207.

Baldwin, R. A., Kennedy, M. L., Houston, A. E. and Liu, P. S. 2004. An assessment of microhabitat variables and capture success of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis). Journal of Mammalogy 85: 1068-1076.

Bennitt, R. and Nagel, W. O. 1937. A survey of the resident game and furbearers of Missouri. University of Missouri Studies 12: 1-215.

Brown, L. G. and Yeager, L. E. 1943. Survey of the Illinois fur resource. Bulletin Illinois Natural History Survey 22: 435-504.

Burt, W. H. 1946. The mammals of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.

Carr, D. E. 1974. Predatory behavior in the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Cornell University.

Casey, G. A. and Webster, W. A. 1975. Age and sex determination of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) from Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec. Canadian Journal of Zoology 53: 223-231.

Crooks, K. R. and Soulé, M. E. 1999. Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400: 563–566.

Dijak, W. D. and Thompson, F. R. 2000. Landscape and edge effects on the distribution of mammalian predators in Missouri. Journal of Wildlife Management 64: 209-216.

Donovan, T. M., Jones, P. W., Annand, E. M. and Thompson, F. R. 1997. Variation in local-scale edge effects: mechanisms and landscape context. Ecology 78: 2064–2075.

Dragoo, J.W. and Honeycutt, L. 1997. Systematics of mustelid-like carnivores. Journal of Mammalogy 78: 426-443.

Gehrt, S. D. 2005. Seasonal survival and cause-specific mortality of urban and rural striped skunks in the absence of rabies. Journal of Mammalogy 86: 1164-1170.

Godin, A. J. 1982. Striped and hooded skunks. In: J. A. Chapman and G. A. Feldhamer (eds), Wild mammals of North America: biology, management, and economics, pp. 674–687. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Hamilton, D. A. and Vangilder, L. D. 1992. Furbearer populations, animal rights and wild turkey production; a special report. Missouri Department of Conservation, Columbia, Missouri, USA.

Hamilton Jr., W. J. and Whitaker Jr., J. O. 1979. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Hansen, L. A., Mathews, N. E., Vander Lee, B. A. and Scott Lutz, R. 2004. Population characteristics, survival rates, and causes of mortality of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) on the southern high plains, Texas. Southwestern Naturalist 49(1): 54-60.

Honacki, J.H., Kinman, K.E. and Koeppl, J.W. 1982. Mammal species of the world: A taxonomic and geographic reference. Allen Press.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1. Available at: (Accessed: 30 June 2016).

Jones Jr., H. W. 1939. Winter studies of skunks in Pennsylvania. Journal of Mammalogy 20: 254-256.

Kuehl, A. K. and Clark, W. R. 2002. Predator activity related to landscape features in northern Iowa. Journal of Wildlife Management 66: 1224-1234.

Larivière, S., Walton, R. L. R. and Messier, F. 1999. Selection by Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) of Farmsteads and Buildings as Denning Sites. The American Midland Naturalist 142: 96–101.

Mutch, G. R. P. 1977. Locations of winter dens utilized by striped skunks in Delta Marsh, Manitoba. Canadian Field-Naturalist 91: 289–29.

Oehler, J. D. and Litvaitis, J. A. 1996. The role of spatial scale in understanding responses of medium-sized carnivores to forest fragmentation. Canadian Journal of Zoology 74: 2070-2079.

Rogers, C. M. and Caro, M. J. 1998. Song sparrows, top carnivores and nest predation: A test of the mesopredator release hypothesis. Oecologia 116: 227-233.

Rosatte, R. C. 1986. A strategy for urban rabies control: social change implications. Walden University.

Rosatte, R.C. 1987. Striped, Spotted, Hooded, and Hog-nosed Skunk. In: M. Novak, J.A. Baker, M.E. Obbard and B. Malloch (eds), Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America, pp. 1150 pp.. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Trappers Association, Ontario, Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Rosatte, R. C. and Larivière, S. 2003. Skunks. In: G. Feldhamer, B. C. Thompson and J. Chapman (eds), Wild mammals of North America, 2nd edition, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Rue, L. L. 1981. Furbearing animals of North America. Crown Publications, New York, USA.

Sikes, R. K. 1970. Rabies. In: J. W. Davis, L. H. Karstad and D. O. Trainer (eds), Infectious diseases of wild animals, Iowa State University Press, Iowa, USA.

Soulé, M. E., Bolger, D. T., Alberts, A. C., Wright, J., Morice, M. and Hill, S. 1988. Reconstructed dynamics of rapid extinctions of chaparral-requiring birds in urban habitat islands. Conservation Biology 2: 75–92.

Stout, I. J. and Sonenshine, D. E. 1974. A striped skunk population in Virginia. Chesapeake Science 15: 140-145.

Verts, B. J. 1967. The biology of the striped skunk. University of Iilinois Press, Urbana, USA.

Walker, E. P. 1964. Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, USA.

Wozencraft, W.C. 2005. Order Carnivora. In: D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Third Edition, pp. 532-628. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Citation: Helgen, K. & Reid, F. 2016. Mephitis mephitis. In: . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41635A45211301. . Downloaded on 21 June 2018.
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