What Do Skunks Eat?

The Skunk’s Diet in a Nutshell

One of the smelliest creatures to be found in the animal kingdom is the skunk. Known for their expressive scent glands, these badger-like scavengers can be found among the night crew. But what exactly are these black and white animals able to find, especially in the dark? Do they alter their meal preferences depending on the habitat around them?

 

WHAT DO SKUNKS EAT?

The skunk is considered to be an omnivore. This means that they rely on both plant and animal material in order to survive. Among the many options a skunk will consume, they prey upon insects, grub, small rodents, lizards, berries, fungi, and potential eggs in the area. As mentioned earlier, they do tend to become the most active in the darkest hours. Do not, however, be surprised if you see one out in the day.

Did you know that the skunk originally belonged to one of the oldest animal families found by biologists? They might even be unique enough to put themselves into a group of their own.

 

SKUNK TAXONOMY

When you think about the physical appearance of a skunk, you might describe them as a “striped cat”. And no, they are not felids, but they do have a few cat-like qualities. These animals were once placed in the weasel family, Mustelidae due to their short legsthick fur, and long bodies. Skunks and stink badgers were eventually grouped into a new family, Mephitidae, who shared the same weasel-like features but with specialized scent glands. There are approximately 12 living members of the family Mephitidae.

 

WHAT DO SKUNKS EAT IN THE WILD?

Within the family Mephitidae, you can find four different genera, each of which makes up a different type of skunk or stink badger. With their geographical regions varying slightly, so does their diet.

 

STRIPED SKUNK

If you were to imagine the body of a skunk, you’d more than likely describe a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). As the name suggests, they can be identified by their iconic white stripes that start along the neck and run along the side of the body. They oftentimes also have a stripe down the front of their face. No larger than the typical house cat, these animals typically weigh between 1.8 to 4.5 kilograms.The striped skunk inhabits a variety of locations such as woodlands, plains, pasturelands, forests and urban areas. In other words, they are able to take advantage of human expansion. These animals are most commonly found across the majority of North America. This includes the United States, Canada and parts of northern Mexico.

This species is considered to be opportunistic, finding food in nearly every habitat that it lives in. They will typically find a variety of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and beetles. These skunks will also eat other vertebrates such as voles, amphibians, reptiles, fish and rodents. In terms of plant matter, they consume different fruits, though this generally makes up only 10 percent of their diet.

 

HOODED SKUNK

Both the striped and hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura) can be found under the genus Mephitis. At first glance, you might assume that these species look exactly alike, but that is not the case. The hooded skunk also has the indicative white stripe, yet it covers the top region of the body in a “hooded” pattern. They also have longer fur than the striped skunk. These individuals range from 0.4 to 0.9 kilograms, depending on gender.

This species of skunk prefers to dwell in areas that have forests, pasturelands, rocky canyons and streams. As with their closely related cousin, these animals do well in just about any habitat, including those overrun by humans. Their distribution involves the southwest portions of North America, mostly Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

As for what a hooded skunk chooses to eat, they prey on an assortment of insects including earwigs, stink bugs and beetles. They also make the most of any eggs or garbage found along the ground. In addition, the hooded skunk will eat birds, rodents and amphibians. A few scientists have also found this species to consume carrion, or a decaying animal when other sources of food are limited.

 

HOG-NOSED SKUNK

The hog-nosed skunks are listed under the genus Conepatus, mostly due to their physical appearance. Other than their flattened nose resembling that of a pig’s snout, they have shorter fur and large front claws. These features help to dig for prey. In fact, their nose can help shovel through the dirt. There are four living species belonging to the genus Conepatus. Each species varies in weight and the pattern involved in striping.

All living members of the hog-nosed skunk genus demonstrate similar habitat preferences. Biologists have mostly found them along canyons, rocky mountains and grasslands. As long as they are able to burrow with plenty of surrounding vegetation, these animals can find the necessary food. Depending on the species, their range can vary. Overall, each and every living species of hog-nosed skunks can be found in either North or South America.

All skunks, regardless of which genus it is listed under, tend to enjoy feasting on a variety of insects. The hog-nosed skunk, however, makes it a daily phenomenon. With a hairless snout to root and formidable digging claws, these animals consume mostly insects. They mostly prefer beetles, grub and larvae that can be found under the topmost layer of soil.

 

SPOTTED SKUNK

Most believe that skunks are decorated with stripes, but one species in particular actually uses spots to trick their prey. The genus Spilogale includes all four living members belonging to the spotted skunks grouping. As a matter of fact, “spilo” means “spotted” while “gale” translates to “foul odor” in Latin. As the name suggests, their black bodies are outfitted with a mixture of white spots and thin stripes. The most widely known Western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis)

Spotted skunks, regardless of species, prefer to live in areas that are covered by either shrubbery or woods. They also tend to exist in habitats that have nearby streams. Their range of the spotted skunks as a genus exists throughout the United States, Mexico and South America. The western spotted skunk, in particular, has a wide distribution that extends over the Western United States, British Columbia and into Northern Mexico.

The diet of a western spotted skunk closely resembles that of a striped skunk, preying mostly on reptiles, birds, eggs and fruit. Unlike other species, these animals tend to gravitate towards insects and small mammals when given the opportunity.

 

HOW DO SKUNKS FIND FOOD IN THE WILD?

After comparing the different genera of skunk including a few of the better-known species, it’s easy to see that these animals can find a large variety of food. This depends on the species as well as the habitat.

 

ROOTING

Some skunks are able to use their very snout in order to find food. The hog-nosed skunk, in particular, is well adapted in this fashion. They will push their nostrils into the dirt and push around the debris, being able to catch onto a nearby treat. This species isn’t the only skunk to use its stronger sense of smell. In fact, skunks overall have poor eyesight, meaning that they rely on their snout to find food.

 

DIGGING

If you were to look at the front feet of a skunk, you might notice their long claws. They can use these tools to dig holes as deep as 4 inches below the surface. Not only does this aid in finding insects, but they can also build a den to sleep in during the day. In fact, you might even notice a skunk digging in your lawn where bugs become easy prey.

 

BLACK AND WHITE THIEVES

Some animals are known for storing their food in the ground until it is needed. The skunk, however, resorts to another tactic. Instead of finding their own meal, skunks will occasionally raid from others. Using their nose, they will find food stored by others and take advantage of the situation. Although raccoons are known as the bandits of the animal world, we might consider skunks to be a close second.

 

OPPORTUNISTIC FORAGERS

Species found near human civilization have become quite talented in seizing this opportunity. As a rule of thumb, skunks aren’t all that picky. This means that they will take advantage of the food that humans have grown or thrown out. Skunks have been labeled as pests due to their crafty and opportunistic feeding strategies.

 

WHAT DO SKUNKS EAT IN CAPTIVITY?

Skunks are found in a number of zoos to act as educational ambassadors. They also have been known to make an interesting pet for some. There are 17 states in the United States that have legalized the act of ownership over these animals. But what exactly would a captive skunk eat, either in a zoo or at its home?

Individuals found in zoos are mainly fed a variety of plant and animal material. This includes earthworms, rodents, eggs, berries, fruits and grasses. They are also fed supplements to provide the correct nutrition.

As for those found in a home, these skunks are typically given fruits, grains, vegetables and a protein of some kind, either fish or chicken. Skunks should not be fed commercial food as their digestive tract cannot properly process these ingredients.

 

HOW DO SKUNKS GET WATER?

One of the most common worries when dealing with a neighborhood skunk, other than being sprayed, is that they will have rabies. But, did you know that this can be caused by a lack of water or hydrophobia? These animals don’t tend to drink water in large quantities. Instead, they gain a majority of their water intake through the food that they consume. When comparing their distribution, these animals do often live near streams, meaning that they rely on water for sustenance.

 

RELATED QUESTIONS

 

Where Do Skunks Den?

As mentioned earlier, skunks use their front claws to burrow. As with most ferret-like creatures, these animals use dens to rest during the day and raise their young. Dens can be created in yards, woodpiles or on the side of a hill. You may even find a skunk den under your house.

 

Why Do Skunks Smell?

Surely, you’ve heard that skunks are stinky, but where does the odor come from? The spray itself is emitted through two glands, located underneath the tail. The stench is so powerful that it will last up to 21 days in the environment if not dealt with. Skunks spray as a way to protect themselves. In fact, this is their only line of defense. They will only use it if they feel threatened.

 

Do Skunks Bite?

As with any animal, there is the possibility for a bite to occur if provoked enough. Skunks have around 34 teeth, 4 of which are their canine teeth. These animals rarely resort to biting as that would mean that they are too close. Spraying is a better line of defense as it keeps the predator at bay. Most recorded wild skunk bites are ones that have been infected with the rabies virus.

 

What Will Keep Skunks Away?

When it comes to your house, you may not want to have a skunk nearby. Sure, they won’t hurt you, but their aroma is not all that pleasant. The most effective skunk deterrent is pepper spray. Other solutions include keeping your fencing intact, feeding pets indoors and fitting trash cans with sealed lids. By nature, skunks are relatively skittish. If you see one in the wild, keep your distance and clap your hands. They’ll more than likely run in the other direction.

 

Why Are Skunks Black and White?

With everything you have learned about skunks, you might be thinking about their choice of color. This combination is actually a message to other animals. The white bands alongside the bold black patches warn predators that they are dangerous. If this does not work, a skunk will stomp its feat against the ground to appear threatening. When all else fails and the enemy continues to approach, the anal glands are used. Most animals recognize the black and white as a cue to stay away.

The skunk is a widely misunderstood animal. We often resort to calling them “smelly” when they want nothing more than to find a nice meal. These animals are opportunistic in their feeding habits, finding an array of insects, birds, reptiles, eggs, fruits and plants. Surprisingly, they can come in both stripes and spots. You may not want to see these critters around your own home, but we can still appreciate their versatility and distinctive patterns.