Striped skunks are nocturnal and they are the most common skunk in North America. Like all skunks, they have an incredible defense system: skunks spray a foul-smelling liquid that clings to their assailants for days. They often aim for the eyes which cause pain and temporary blindness to their potential predators, allowing the skunk to make an escape. Birds of prey, such as the great-horned owl, are the most successful hunters of skunks, most likely due to their lack of a sense of smell.
Skunks give plenty of cues before unleashing the foul odor: they stamp their feet with their tail erect and some of them even do a handstand. Skunks have a strong sense of smell, and even they don’t like to smell their own stink; they always save their spray as a last defense. Skunks have poor eyesight and have a difficult time seeing more than 10 feet away. Often they are victims of roadkill and are treated as a pest because of their odor.
Skunks have an important job out in the wild. As omnivores, they make an impact on the ground level of the forest layer, keeping small rodent and insect populations in check while also providing food for larger predators.
Historically, skunks have been grouped in with the family Mustelidae alongside badgers and weasels. However, they are now recognized as their own distinct family Mephitidae (pronounced meh-FIH-tih-dee), after a word meaning ‘stink’.