Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

 

 

Front Track Hind Track
7/8 - 1 1/2 in. L x 3/4 - 1 3/16 in. W 15/16 - 1 13/16 in. L x 13/16 - 1 1/4 in. W

Striped Skunk Tracks

Long front claws for digging.

 

Natural History of Striped Skunks

 

stskunkThe striped skunk is a boldly colored nocturnal animal whose defense is a very strong smelling spray. It has glands which hold about a tablespoon of musky smelling methyl mercaptan. This is enough to allow the skunk to spray five or six times. It stamps its feet, growls, hisses, turns its back, and raises its tail straight up when it is about to spray. It can spray up to 15 feet and the smell can carry a mile. If the spray gets in the eyes, it causes pain.

Skunk tracks show five toes on the front foot and five on the hind foot. The front tracks usually show claw marks farther ahead of the toe marks than the rear prints do. This is because the skunk has longer claws on the front feet to use in digging up roots and insects.

 

This is a perfect left front striped skunk track. In fact, you can see features in this track that do not often show up in the front tracks of skunks! As you will see in the photos below, the front track often only shows the metacarpal (heel) pad. In this beautiful perfect print, you see the metacarpal pad, but also the carpal pad. See the two paired pads that are at the bottom of the photo? The one on the left is the carpal pad. The one on the right is another metacarpal pad. In skunk tracks, these pads rarely make an imprint. It may be due to the way skunks walk or to the substrate, but it is not common to find such a perfect and complete front footprint!

Now, how do you tell left from right in skunk tracks? Look at the five toe prints above. You will notice that one toe is smaller and set lower in the track. (The toe on the far left.) This is the inner toe, also called Toe #1. The toes are numbered from inside to outside and go from 1 to 5. So, the location of Toe 1 will tell you that this is the toe to the inside of the animal's body. (Equivalent to your thumb.) So, by that toe's position, you will know that this is the left track. Front is because of the longer claw marks.

The hind track also shows the lower inner toe, but that toe is equivalent to the big toe on a human. So, have a look at the hind tracks below and look for the position of the lowest, innermost toe. That will tell you left from right track!

 
Perfect left front striped skunk track, showing long claws for digging
Perfect left front striped skunk track, showing long claws for digging
 
Left front striped skunk track in mud

Left front striped skunk track in mud. You can clearly see the front claw marks way ahead of the toes in this track. This characteristic allows you to identify the front track. Longer front claws are used by the skunk for digging.

 
Right hind striped skunk track
Right hind striped skunk track. Only one claw left an imprint here.
 
Left front striped skunk track in dust
Left front striped skunk track in dust. Front tracks have longer claws.
 
Striped skunk trail across mud that has been rained on
Striped skunk trail across mud that has been rained on
 
striped skunk in dust

Left hind striped skunk track in dust. The shorter claw marks identify this as the hind print.

 
Striped skunk tracks showing only the claw marks
Striped skunk tracks showing only the claw marks. This happens in firm soils. you can tell these are skunk tracks because they have five long claws. Rabbits often leave only claw marks as well, but their feet are asymmetrical.
 
left front striped skunk track in firm sand

A nice left front striped skunk track in firm sand. This one barely shows an imprint from the foot. It is mostly claw marks.

 
Striped skunk tracks in firm sand
Striped skunk tracks in firm sand
 
striped skunk tracks in dust

A pair of striped skunk tracks in dust. The top one shows the long claws that are found on the front foot. The bottom track is the hind track. The hind track usually shows the longer metatarsal pad, but sometimes it is not visible. Hind feet have shorter claws than front feet.

 
skunk and bobcat on trail camera

A striped skunk ignores a bobcat walking past it with prey in its mouth. Either the skunk doesn't fear the bobcat because he has spray to defend himself with, or he's not worried because the bobcat already has captured some prey. The prey looks like a brush rabbit. This image was captured on my trail camera and is one of the best images I have ever gotten with it.

 
striped skunk foraging for food

In this photo, a striped skunk goes about its business searching for food in short grass. I was standing 10 feet away, filming it. It went on about its business for a few minutes, then it looked up and saw me.
(See next photo)

 
striped skunk looking at me

In this photo, the skunk has seen me and is trying to decide what to do. I was not moving at all. I made no noise either. I just watched. The skunk thought for a minute, then decided to see if it could scare me off.
(See next photo)

 
striped skunk charging the photographer with tail raised

The skunk charged right at me, stomping its front feet in a stiff-legged stance. It raised its tail and ran straight toward me. I didn't move. The skunk couldn't quite figure out what this large animal was doing so close to it. (See next photo)

 
striped skunk retreating from the photographer

Finally, the skunk must have decided retreat was the best option. It turned tail and ran away. It was an interesting encounter and I'm lucky I didn't get sprayed. But I did learn a little bit about skunk behavior.  I think it decided that an animal that does not run when charged by a skunk could be dangerous. At least that's what I hope it thought. :)

 
 
 
young striped skunk

A very young striped skunk. This one was with another young animal outside my door one night. I heard rustling in the grass and opened the door to find these youngsters out there.

 
Digging by a striped skunk in a coastal sand dune habitat.
 
A skunk whose photo was taken with a trail camera
A skunk whose photo was taken with a trail camera
 
Striped skunk showing his tail to the camera
Striped skunk showing his tail to the camera
 
Young striped skunk
Young striped skunk
 

Hole dug by a striped skunk in river sand along the Eel River in Humboldt County, California.

They forage by digging. Sometimes, you will find these small holes dug out by skunks. They will also get into garbage cans.

Digging by striped skunk.

It has been said that skunks can be discouraged from visiting by scattering a few mothballs around on the ground. They are supposed to be repelled by the smell of camphor.

Three to eight young are born blind and are weaned at six to seven weeks.

Skunks are omnivorous, eating mice, eggs, insects, grubs, fruit, carrion, and shrews.

Great horned owls are predators that commonly eat skunks.

Skunks find shelter under buildings or in ground burrows taken over from other animals. Skunks are active year-round.

Striped skunk. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2005.

A striped skunk that I encountered out and about one night.

 

Striped skunk tracks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Striped skunk tracks. The hind foot is visible as a lighter imprint atop the front track. The front track exhibits the long claws that the skunk uses for digging for food.
 

Striped skunk track from front paw. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice front track, showing the longer claws found on the front foot of the skunk.

 

Striped skunk tracks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A pair of striped skunk tracks. The hind track left imprints only from the toes as the rock took most of the animal's weight. Variations in tracks are the norm, so never expect that the tracks you find will look exactly like the ones in the field guides!
 

Striped skunk gait. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice gait sequence from a striped skunk. This pattern is produced by the normal walking gait.

 
Striped skunk track in mud. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice striped skunk track in mud. The skunk stepped on this fine mud and deposited some sand that had been clinging to its paw. The long claws left small imprints ahead of the toes. This is a right front paw. The particles of sand that are on top of the mud surface had adhered to the skunk's foot and were carried forward. This is called "transfer" by trackers. It is when one material is stuck to the foot and is carried forward and deposited with the next step (or steps, as this can carry forward for many more steps, depending on the material.)

 
Beautiful Striped skunk track in mud, showing long front claw marks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A very nice left front pawprint from a striped skunk. The long claws tell you that it is the front paw. The front paws are used for digging and foraging. The inner toe is the smallest toe, just like in bear tracks.

 
Striped skunk track in mud. Left front paw. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A left front paw print from a striped skunk. The quarter gives you an idea of the track size. Always include an item of known size in your track photos to give them scale.

 
Striped skunk track in mud. Right front paw. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A nice right front paw print in dried mud. This skunk's claws left nice clear imprints.
 
Striped skunk track. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Striped skunk track in dusty soil. The shorter claw marks indicate this is the hind track. The front paw has long claws.

 
Skunk track in dust. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A nice skunk hind track in dust.
 
Striped skunk scat showing how eating garbage is bad for animals. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

This is why animals should be kept out of garbage. This skunk got into a garbage can and ate the little bread tie thing. It went through his digestive tract and came out in the scat. These plastic items could kill an animal. Always keep garbage cans tightly sealed and keep them locked up where animals can't get into them until collection day. The animals will be safer.

 
 
Striped skunk. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2005.
If the skunk raises its tail and twists its body around so the back end is pointing your way..... watch out!
 
Skunk feeding sign. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A striped skunk dug into this underground wasp nest and ate the wasps.
 
 
Striped skunk on trail camera
Striped skunk on trail camera
 
Trail camera view of striped skunk
Trail camera view of striped skunk
 

 

Skunk hind cast.

Striped skunk hind foot cast from a mold. Note claw length.

 

Striped skunk. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2002.

A striped skunk that visited me, looking for food.
No, I didn't get sprayed after taking the photo! :)

 

Striped skunk track. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

A beautiful striped skunk track in mud. This footprint
shows the claw marks ahead of the toes. Skunks use
their long claws to dig. The five toes are perfectly
outlined in this paw print. It resembles a small bear
print.
 

Personal Notes on Striped Skunks

I once lived in a house that had a family of skunks denning underneath. The smell got to be pretty strong after a while, but it was still tolerable. Eventually, they moved out on their own. I have had several close encounters with skunks, but have been fortunate enough to have not been sprayed by one. I came close one night though. I accidentally startled a skunk that was raiding my cat's food dish. The skunk's tail went up and I went the opposite direction - fast!

 
 

 

Find skunk posters, greeting cards, t-shirts, hats, and more in my new store.

Visit Beartracker's Nature Store at: www.dirt-time.com  Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's animal tracks coloring book, T-shirts, sweatshirts, journals, book bags, toddler and infant apparel, mouse pads, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, travel mugs, clocks, Frisbees, bumper stickers, hats, stickers, and many more items. All with tracks or paw  prints, or nature scenes. Custom products are available. If you don't see the track you want on the product you want, email me and I can probably create it. Proceeds from all sales go to pay the monthly fees for this web site. You can help support this site as well as get great tracking products! Thank you!

 

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Copyright 1997, 2009, 2010, 2013. Text and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera

Page updated: May 27, 2013.

Copyright 1997, 2009, 2010, 2013. Text, drawings, and photos by Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design