Skunks

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Identification

  • Striped skunk (Mephtis mephitis)  
  • Spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) 
  • Hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura
  • Hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leucontus

Legal Status

Striped skunks are not protected by law in most states, but spotted skunks are fully protected in some. Legal status and licensing requirements vary. Check with state wildlife officials before removing any skunks. 

Figure 1. Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis).  
Photo by Greg Clements. 

Physical Description

Skunks are members of the weasel family. There are 4 species in North America. 

Skunks have short, stocky legs and proportionately large feet equipped with well-developed claws that enable them to be very adept at digging. Skunks exhibit a wide variety in coat color: some may be either mostly black or white. Skunks have the ability to discharge nauseating musk from the anal glands and are capable of several discharges rather than just a single discharge. 

Striped skunks often are characterized by prominent, lateral white stripes that run down the back; the fur is otherwise jet black. Striped skunks are the most abundant of the 4 species. Spotted skunks are more weasel-like and are readily distinguishable by white spots and short, broken white stripes in a dense jet-black coat. Hooded skunks are identified by hair on the neck spread out into a ruff. The back and tail may be all white or nearly all black, with 2 white side stripes. The tail is as long as the head and body combined. Hog-nosed skunks have white backs and tails and black lower sides and belly. The snout is long and hairless for about 1 inch at the top.  

Striped skunks are about the size of an ordinary house cat, up to 29 inches long and weighing about 8 pounds. Spotted skunks are up to 21 inches long and weigh about 2.2 pounds. Hooded skunks are about 28 inches long and weigh about 8 pounds. Hog-nosed skunks are up to 26 inches long and weigh about 4 pounds. 

Species Ranges

Striped skunks are common throughout the US and Canada (Figure 2a). Spotted skunks are uncommon in some areas but are found throughout the US and northern Mexico (Figure 2b). Hooded skunks and hog-nosed skunks are much less common. Hooded skunks are limited to southwest New Mexico and west Texas. Hog-nosed skunks are found in Colorado, central and south New Mexico, the southern half of Texas, and northern Mexico.  

Figure 2a. Distribution of striped skunks.  
Image by PCWD. 
Figure 2b. Distribution of spotted skunks.  
Image by PCWD. 

Voice and Sounds

Skunks make noises ranging from screeches, whimpers, and chirps. They stomp their front feet in a thump, thump combination when agitated.  

Tracks and Signs

Tracks may be used to identify the animal causing damage (Figure 3). Both the hind and forefeet of skunks have 5 toes. In some cases, the fifth toe may not be obvious. Claw marks usually are visible, but the heels of the forefeet normally are not. Tracks from the hind feet are approximately 2½ inches long.  

Figure 3. Tracks of a striped skunk. Image by PCWD. 

Droppings of skunks can often be identified by the undigested insect parts they contain. Droppings are ¼ to ½ inch in diameter, and 1 to 2 inches long. 

Odor is not always a reliable indicator of the presence or absence of skunks. The musk of skunks can be detected for up to a mile away. Opossums also emit a “skunk-like” odor. Sometimes dogs, cats, or other animals that have been sprayed by skunks make owners mistakenly think skunks are present. Odor from skunks that persists for days and increases in intensity typically means a skunk has died and the musk gland has broken open.