The most common member of the mustelid family is the skunk. Most people have seen, or at least smelled, this odoriferous mustelid at one time or another. There are actually two species of skunks that are present in Maryland; one being very common while the other member is somewhat rare. Skunks are the most common member of the mustelid family.

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The more common striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is found throughout North America, identified by a black body and a bushy tail with a distinct white stripe down its midsection. Striped skunks grow to the size of a house cat and can become rather portly looking. They are very opportunistic feeders, eating mice, insects, frogs, snakes, plant material, seeds, fruit, and carrion. Striped skunks den in underground boroughs, in rock piles, buildings, or any suitable location. This skunk has become very well adapted to living with humans.

A less common skunk is the Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius.) This member of the skunk family is smaller, faster, and more agile than the striped skunk, having more in common with a weasel than its larger and slower cousin.

Spotted skunks are also opportunistic feeders, and they tend to live in underground boroughs that are near a water source. More wild in nature, they are less likely to live around humans. The spotted skunk can climb trees and will feed on fish and aquatic creatures.

Both skunks emit foul-smelling chemicals from their anal glands as a self defense mechanism, and most predators leave them alone. If threatened, the skunk will stomp its feet, raise its tail, and hiss. If the threat continues, the skunk will spray its attacker. The striped skunk raises its tail to do this; the spotted skunk will do a hand stand and contort its body in a U-shape so that it is looking at its target while taking dead aim. Doing this helps launch the chemical 20- 30 feet in distance.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 1/1/2017