Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) live in holes dug into the ground, often under old buildings and rock piles. For years, skunks have lived under an old bunkhouse about ten feet from our front door (near Lookout CA – Modoc County). Skunks sleep for weeks in very cold weather, but do not exhibit a true hibernation. Thus Leonard and I enjoy them throughout the year, except in the most bitter part of winter.
Each year the polygamous skunks raise a single litter under the bunkhouse. In early spring we watch them collect grass to line their nest and know that after a gestation of 59 to 77 days, usually in mid-May or early June, about 6 kits will arrive. (The wide range of the period between mating and birth is due to the fact that striped skunks have a period of delayed implantation that can last as long as 19 days.) The blind, sparsely furred kits open their eyes after about 3 weeks and are weaned between 42 and 56 days. The males become independent after approximately 2 1/2 months while the females will stay with their mother until the following spring.
Striped skunks have powerful scent glands near the base of their tails. The glands are encased in muscles and are under voluntary control. Striped skunks do not discharge their scent unless provoked and only then as a last resort.
When a skunk is disturbed it will strike the ground audibly with its forefeet and make short rushes before releasing their scent. Finally they will back up to the enemy and release fine yellow droplets with accuracy up to 25 feet.
We have outdoor cats. In the summer the young skunks will “play” with our cats. The cats and skunks, with raised tails, face each other. The skunks will make a short advance while the cats back up. Then the cats move forward and the skunks back up. Leonard and I often watch this “dance” for ten minutes or more before the skunks and cats walk away from each other. Never has a skunk sprayed the cats. They do seem to be playing.
For over 25 years Leonard and I have taken pleasure in our striped skunks and their kits. The little kits waddling about are so cute. They never sprayed in our yard and appear to not be concerned by our presence. Of course, we are careful not to startle the skunks, especially at night. Although guests occasionally are concerned by our resident skunks, we are happy to share their territory.