Invasive Species Compendium

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Datasheet

Mephitis mephitis
(striped skunk)

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Datasheet

Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 03 January 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Documented Species
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Mephitis mephitis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • striped skunk
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Mephitis mephitis, the striped skunk, is a medium sized mustelid that is widespread and increasing distribution across its native range in Southern Canada, USA and Mexico. As a habitat generalist, the species c...

  • Principal Source
  • Draft datasheet under review

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); kits foraging. Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming, USA. March 2014.
TitleKits foraging
CaptionMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); kits foraging. Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming, USA. March 2014.
Copyright©USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Keith Penner - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); kits foraging. Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming, USA. March 2014.
Kits foragingMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); kits foraging. Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming, USA. March 2014.©USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Keith Penner - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult and a kit. nr. San Francisco, USA. June 2011.
TitleAdult and kit
CaptionMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult and a kit. nr. San Francisco, USA. June 2011.
Copyright©Greg Schechter/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult and a kit. nr. San Francisco, USA. June 2011.
Adult and kitMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult and a kit. nr. San Francisco, USA. June 2011.©Greg Schechter/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult foraging in snow. nr, Fremont, Idaho, USA. April 2010.
TitleAdult
CaptionMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult foraging in snow. nr, Fremont, Idaho, USA. April 2010.
Copyright©Dan Dzurisin/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult foraging in snow. nr, Fremont, Idaho, USA. April 2010.
AdultMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult foraging in snow. nr, Fremont, Idaho, USA. April 2010.©Dan Dzurisin/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult, with tail raised, in the posture indicative of imminent spraying.
TitleAdult
CaptionMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult, with tail raised, in the posture indicative of imminent spraying.
CopyrightPublic Domain - Released by Skeeze/via wikipedia/Pixabay - CC0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult, with tail raised, in the posture indicative of imminent spraying.
AdultMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); adult, with tail raised, in the posture indicative of imminent spraying.Public Domain - Released by Skeeze/via wikipedia/Pixabay - CC0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); skull, showing dentition typical of the Carnivora.
TitleSkull
CaptionMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); skull, showing dentition typical of the Carnivora.
Copyright©Klaus Rassinger & Gerhard Cammerer/Museum Wiesbaden, Germany/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk); skull, showing dentition typical of the Carnivora.
SkullMephitis mephitis (striped skunk); skull, showing dentition typical of the Carnivora.©Klaus Rassinger & Gerhard Cammerer/Museum Wiesbaden, Germany/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Mephitis mephitis (Schreber, 1776)

Preferred Common Name

  • striped skunk

International Common Names

  • English: skunk
  • Spanish: zorrillo-listado del norte
  • French: mouffette rayée

Local Common Names

  • Netherlands: gestreept stinkdier

Summary of Invasiveness

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Mephitis mephitis, the striped skunk, is a medium sized mustelid that is widespread and increasing distribution across its native range in Southern Canada, USA and Mexico. As a habitat generalist, the species can spread to a wide range of habitats and due to its winter denning behaviours, may remain undetected for long time periods. Throughout its native area, the species occurs in a wide range of climatic zones from warm to cool temperate, fully encompassing the Nearctic equivalents of conditions that are found throughout much of Europe. Introduced to new areas in Europe through the pet trade, escapes or releases of captive animals have led to the subsequent establishment of wild populations, with the potential to become invasive.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Carnivora
  •                         Family: Mephitidae
  •                             Genus: Mephitis
  •                                 Species: Mephitis mephitis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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There are 13 subspecies of M. mephitis found across the species native range in North America (Wilson and Reeder, 2005), all being commonly referred to as striped skunk. In several Native American dialects (Cree, Oijb and Saut), the skunk was referred to as ‘shee-gawk’, which is thought to be at the origin of the word Chicago, meaning skunk land (Seton, 1909).

Description

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The striped skunk is a medium sized carnivorous mustelid ranging from 520 to 770 mm total length and weighing between 1.8 and 4.5 kg (Valdez-Villavicenio et al., 2014). The species has triangular shaped heads that taper to the nose, small round ears and black eyes. They have stocky legs with long curved claws on their forefeet and shorter straighter claws on their hind feet that make them well adapted for digging (Rosatte and Lawson, 2003). The colour pattern of the striped skunk can vary, but typically consists of black fur with a characteristic white stripe or ‘V’-shaped stripe that extends down the back of the animal (Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982; Rosatte and Lawson, 2003). The skunk is well known for its ability to spray a foul odour as a defensive behaviour, a characteristic that has been widely depicted in literature, on television and in films, thus making skunks likely recognisable to many non-specialists (Wilson, 2011).

Distribution

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Widespread across its native range of Southern Canada, USA and Mexico (Long, 2003), the species is found at highest densities in the central region of the United States (McCune, 1973). Striped skunks have been expanding their range in mainland Canada and have also been successfully introduced in several parts of Canada, including Prince Edward Island, Vancouver Island and Nova Scotia (Long, 2003).

Several attempts to release the species into Russia and Ukraine occurred in the 1930s; however, the releases were not successful and the animals are no longer thought to be present in these areas (DAISIE, 2015). Skunks are kept as pets in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the UK (Parrott et al., 2009; van Belle and Schut, 2010) and likely in many other European countries, although the pet trade is not well documented. It is thought that a small population of escaped/released pet animals has established in a Northern Province of the Netherlands (van Belle and Schut, 2010; NOBANIS, 2015), but the population does not seem to have spread to neighbouring Germany or Belgium. There have been several reports of animals in the Forest of Dean in the UK, but their origin and current status is not known (Wilson, 2011).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

North America

CanadaWidespreadNativePresent based on regional distribution. Considered both native and introduced in the country
-AlbertaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-British ColumbiaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-ManitobaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-Nova ScotiaWidespreadIntroducedLong, 2003
-OntarioWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-Prince Edward IslandWidespreadIntroducedLong, 2003
-QuebecWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-SaskatchewanWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
MexicoWidespreadNativeSmith et al., 1986
USAWidespreadNativePresent based on regional distribution
-AlabamaWidespreadNativeHowel, 1921
-ArizonaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-ArkansasWidespreadNativeFerguson and Heidt, 1981
-CaliforniaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012; Raghavan et al., 2016
-ColoradoWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-ConnecticutWidespreadNativeDurden and Richardson, 2003
-DelawareWidespreadNativeErnst, 1975
-District of ColumbiaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-FloridaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-GeorgiaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-IdahoWidespreadNativeZoellick et al., 2005
-IllinoisWidespreadNativeGreenwood and Sargeant, 1994; Larivière and Messier, 1998; Barton and Wisely, 2012
-IndianaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-IowaWidespreadNativeKuehl and Clarke, 2002
-KansasWidespreadNativeRaghavan et al., 2016
-KentuckyWidespreadNativeSmith et al., 1986
-LouisianaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-MaineWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-MarylandWidespreadNativeErnst, 1975
-MassachusettsWidespreadNativeDubey et al., 1996
-MichiganWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-MinnesotaWidespreadNativeGreenwood and Sargeant, 1994
-MississippiWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-MissouriWidespreadNativeDijak and Thompson, 2000
-MontanaWidespreadNativeGreenwood and Sargeant, 1994; Barton and Wisely, 2012
-NebraskaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012; Raghavan et al., 2016
-NevadaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-New HampshireWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-New JerseyWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-New MexicoWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-New YorkWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-North CarolinaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-North DakotaWidespreadNativeGreenwood and Sargeant, 1994; Greenwood et al., 1999; Barton and Wisely, 2012
-OhioWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-OklahomaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-OregonWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-PennsylvaniaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-Rhode IslandWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-South CarolinaWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-South DakotaWidespreadNativeGreenwood et al., 1999
-TennesseeWidespreadNativeNeiswenter and Dowler, 2007
-TexasWidespreadNativeNeiswenter and Dowler, 2007; Barton and Wisely, 2012; Brashear et al., 2015; Raghavan et al., 2016
-UtahWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-VermontWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-VirginiaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-WashingtonWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-West VirginiaWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012
-WisconsinWidespreadNativeHelgen and Reid, 2016
-WyomingWidespreadNativeBarton and Wisely, 2012; Ramey et al., 2013

Europe

BelgiumPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedvan Belle and Schut, 2010Kept as pets
GermanyPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedvan Belle and Schut, 2010; DAISIE, 2015Previously in the wild, now only kept in captivity as pets
NetherlandsPresent, few occurrencesIntroduced2000van Belle and Schut, 2010; NOBANIS, 2015Also kept as pets
Russian FederationAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1937 Not invasive DAISIE, 2015
UKPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedWilson, 2011Records from the Forest of Dean, supposedly no longer present in the wild; kept as pets
UkraineAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1933 Not invasive DAISIE, 2015

History of Introduction and Spread

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Whilst the species is thought to be expanding its native range in mainland Canada, the majority of spread outside its native range is thought to be due to intentional releases or accidental escapes. Animals found on Vancouver Island are thought to have arrived via intentional release (Long, 2003). Animals reported in European countries are likely to have escaped or been released from captivity as pets (Parrott et al., 2009; van Belle and Schut, 2010).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Germany 1994 Pet trade (pathway cause) No No DAISIE (2015) First record in Freiburg; release thought to be intentional
Netherlands 2000 Pet trade (pathway cause) No No van Belle and Schut (2010) Population thought to have established with a rare distribution in a northern province
UK Pet trade (pathway cause) No No Wilson (2011) Potential escaped individuals in the Forest of Dean
Russian Federation 1937 Intentional release (pathway cause) No No Long (2003)
Ukraine 1933 Intentional release (pathway cause) No No DASIE (2015)

Risk of Introduction

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M. mephitis is likely to be introduced to new areas through the pet trade and subsequent escapes or deliberate releases due to abandonment of pet animals. The risk of deliberate pet abandonment may be higher in areas where performing de-scenting procedures is illegal (Wilson, 2011). 
Skunks have been recorded to disperse distances in excess of 100 Km, although more commonly they disperse around 20 km (Sargeant et al., 1982). Once released into new environments, they have the potential to spread and establish populations, as has occurred in the Netherlands (van Belle and Schut, 2010).

Habitat

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As a habitat generalist, the species is found in almost every type of habitat across North America (Bixler and Gittleman, 2000), although not in deserts. M. mephitis is abundant on agricultural lands and can also be found in wetlands, woods, grassland and forested areas (Neiswenter and Dowler, 2007). The species is particularly associated with human altered areas, such as barns and outbuildings, and can be found under houses and garages in urban areas (Helgen and Reid, 2016). In Canada, striped skunks have been reported to select wetlands more than any other type of habitat and to use farmstead and cropland significantly less than the other available habitat types (Neiswenter and Dowler, 2007).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Natural
Buildings Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Buildings Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Present, no further details Natural
Rocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Arid regions Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Reproductive Biology

Skunks are polygamous and normally breed once a year (Bailey, 1971). The gestation period is typically around 63 days (Verts, 1967). Captive male skunks have been reported to be sexually active for a period of 3 to 5 weeks. In the wild, the mating season typically extends from February to March, although exact timings of breeding can be affected by weather conditions (Bailey, 1971). Populations often exhibit high annual turnover, with high pregnancy rates having been repeatedly reported. The occurrence of large litters and low embryo mortality demonstrates the potential for large annual increases in populations (Greenwood and Sargeant, 1994). Average young per litter range from 5.8 to 6.3 animals (Bailey, 1971). Skunk young are altricial, born fully furred, toothless and with eyes closed. Males do not provide any parental care and the young animals remain in the natal den for a month before they start to accompany their mothers on foraging trips (Larivière and Messier, 1998). Juvenile animals stay with their mothers for the first year and typically disperse during the following mating season (Smith-Patten and Patten, 2008).

Physiology and Phenology

The striped skunk does not hibernate, but it does become dormant and den for significant periods of time during extreme winter weather. Because of the energetic demands of this behaviour, loss of body mass can be substantial during these dormant periods (Gehrt et al., 2010). Due to this denning behaviour, it is possible that animals are present in a new area for a relatively long time before their presence is detected. In addition, the species nocturnal nature can also aid individuals establish undetected in a new environment (Larivière and Messier, 1998).

Longevity

High species turnover occurs in wild populations, with animals living 3 years on average (Greenwood et al., 1999). However, animals have been recorded to live for up to 10 years in captivity (Wilson, 2011).

Population Size and Structure

Home ranges of skunks are estimated to vary between 2.4 and 3.7 km2 for females, and 2.9 to 5 km2 for males; home ranges in urban areas tend to be smaller (Weissenger et al., 2009). Home ranges are also reported to be smaller during the winter than summer, and home range size may also be linked to animal body weight (Bixler and Gittleman, 2000). Females often have overlapping ranges, which they use more intensively than males, and prime sites for natal dens are often used by several females from year to year (Larivière and Messier, 1998).

Nutrition

Skunks are carnivorous, feeding mostly on small mammals and reptiles and on insects, although opportunistically they may consume songbird and waterfowl eggs (Cuyler, 1924; Larivière and Messier, 1998). It is thought that insects compose the majority of the species diet, with additional resources, such as bird eggs and plant foods, being occasionally consumed (Greenwood et al., 1999). Plant materials, in particular, may be an important part of the diet for animals inhabiting northern parts of the species range, filling a dietary void during snowmelt, when conditions are harsh and food is scarce (Greenwood et al., 1999).

Environmental Requirements

The striped skunk tolerates various different climates across its native range (Bixler and Glittleman, 2000). It typically does not inhabit areas above 1800 m of altitude (Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982), although it has been recorded as high as 4200 m (Valdez-Villavicenio et al., 2014). The absolute minimum temperature it tolerates is -35°C (Hwang et al., 2007).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Tolerated Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
24-60

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -35
Mean annual temperature (ºC) -3 25
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 22 32
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -30 15

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Bubo virginianus Predator Other/All Stages not specific
Canis familiaris Predator Other/All Stages not specific
Canis latrans Predator Other/All Stages not specific
Taxidea taxus Predator Other/All Stages not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Natural enemies are thought to include large raptors, as well as cats and canids (Walton and Larivière, 1994; Hunter and Barrett, 2009). However, predation occurs relatively infrequently and disease is the greatest source of mortality in wild striped skunk populations (Larivière and Messier, 1997).

Due to their conspicuous colouration, animals may be subject to predation attacks from inexperienced predators during daytime (Larivière and Messier, 1997). One instance of predation by an American badger has been recorded (Sargeant et al., 1982). Whilst the species does have some natural enemies, predation does not seem to be a relevant threat. 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Natural dispersal is thought to be low for most of the year, peaking in February-March, when males search for mates and juveniles disperse from the natal den (Hansen et al., 2004). Young skunks disperse at approximately one year of age (Smith-Patten and Patten, 2008). Male skunks often disperse greater distances than females (Talbot et al., 2012). Adult male skunks are intolerant of each other, travelling extensively in early spring during mating (Bailey, 1971; Bjorge et al., 1981). Juveniles have been recorded to disperse up to 22 km and can travel long distances in a short time, allowing species spread (Bjorge et al., 1981). The species has been recorded to disperse distances in excess of 100 km, although this is uncommon (Sargeant et al., 1982).

Accidental Introduction

Introductions outside the species native range, both accidental and intentional, are likely to result from the pet trade. The animals are kept as pets in several European countries (van Belle and Schut, 2010) and have the potential to escape captivity or be intentionally released/abandoned. Historic intentional releases have been recorded in Russia, although the introductions were done in small scale and not thought to have been effective (Long, 2003). Although there are little data available regarding the trade of pet skunks, introductions are probably infrequent and in low numbers (Wilson, 2011).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Botanical gardens and zoosCan be found in zoos and escapes could occur, although they would likely be swiftly identifiedWilson, 2011
Pet tradeKept as pets in several European countries, can escape or be intentionally released Wilson, 2011

Impact: Economic

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Direct economic impacts are likely to relate to nuisance damage of gardens and golf courses, given the species association with human altered habitats (Wilson, 2011). In addition, minor economic losses could result from trivial losses to maize/corn crops or fruit orchards, and damage to beehives (Wilson, 2011).

Impact: Environmental

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Impact on Biodiversity

Recognised as an important predator of ground nesting birds in parts of its native range (Greenwood et al., 1999), where introduced the species could impact environments with ground nesting bird populations.

Outside its native range, there is also potential for skunks to compete with mesopredators. However, this is unlikely to significantly affect biodiversity, as the skunk is able to coexist with a wide range of mesopredators in its native range (Wilson, 2011).

Striped skunks may further impact biodiversity as one of the most important vector species of the rabies virus in North America (Raghavan et al., 2016). The spring peak in rabies occurrence has been hypothesized to result from the rabies transfer that occurs in communal winter dens, and dispersal of naïve susceptible juveniles (Weissenger et al., 2009). However, as the spread of skunks outside their native range is likely to occur as a result from releases/escapes of captive held animals, the risk of them carrying rabies is quite small (McCune, 1973).

Impact: Social

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The species may cause social harm through its nuisance behaviours in urban areas, because of its use of human altered habitats and man-made structures as denning sites (Wilson, 2011). Animals may also become a nuisance in pursuit of human waste food in urban areas (Fascione et al., 2004).

The species also poses a potential threat as a vector of rabies, with skunks acting as a vector of the virus and potentially spreading the disease in to or out of the urban matrix (Weissenger et al., 2009).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Damages animal/plant products
Impact mechanisms
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Predation
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic Value

In several states of the USA, skunks are trapped for fur, some states allowing year-round hunting of the animals (Helgen and Reid, 2016). However, the popularity of skunk fur decreased in the 1950s and 1960s, and the value of a single skunk pelt is relatively low. It is thought that most skunks caught in traps are a bycatch for hunters intending to capture more valuable species (Helgen and Reid, 2016). 

Skunks are sold and kept as pets in several countries in Europe (Parrott et al., 2009; van Belle and Schut, 2010). 

Uses List

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General

  • Botanical garden/zoo
  • Pet/aquarium trade
  • Sport (hunting, shooting, fishing, racing)

Materials

  • Skins/leather/fur

Detection and Inspection

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Resulting from its ability to spray a foul smelling odour, the striped skunk has been widely depicted in literature and on television, and is therefore likely to be recognisable to the general public (Wilson, 2011). Due to its perceptible striped markings, any free roaming individual is likely to be easily identified by members of the public. 

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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The striped polecat Ictonyx striatus can be similar in appearance to the striped skunk, because of a similar body shape and its black fur and white stripes. However, the polecat is smaller than the skunk and is only found in sub-Saharan Africa; confusions between the two species are therefore unlikely (Hunter and Barrett, 2009). 

Prevention and Control

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Prevention

A better regulation of the pet trade could help minimize the risk of animals being intentionally released as unwanted pets. Tighter regulations of the pet trade could also be used to better understand the spatial distribution of captive animals. Improved regulations regarding the movement and selling/breeding of animals should be coupled with information campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of potential pet owners about requirements of this species. In particular, information regarding the legalities of de-scenting animals, a procedure that is illegal in some countries and is thought to influence the abandonment of animals, is essential. 

Control

Any escapes or releases of animals are likely to occur at a small scale due to the relatively low numbers of animals kept in captivity. Control of escaped animals would likely be carried out through the use of live traps and additional use of camera traps.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Little information is available regarding M. mephitis introductions and the success/failure of releases in the introduced areas.

References

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Bailey TN, 1971. Biology of striped skunks on a Southwestern Lake Erie marsh. The American Midland Naturalist, 85(1), 196-207.

Barton HD, Wisely SM, 2012. Phylogeography of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) in North America: Pleistocene dispersal and contemporary population structure. Journal of Mammalogy, 93(1), 38-51.

Bixler A, Gittleman JL, 2000. Variation in home range and use of habitat in the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Journal of Zoology, 251(4), 525-533.

Bjorge RR, Gunson JR, Samuel WM, 1981. Population characteristics and movements of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) in Central Alberta. Canadian Field Naturalist, 95(2), 149-155.

Brashear, W. A., Ammerman, L. K., Dowler, R. C., 2015. Short-distance dispersal and lack of genetic structure in an urban striped skunk population. Journal of Mammalogy, 96(1), 72-80. http://www.bioone.org/loi/mamm doi: 10.1093/jmammal/gyu004

Cuyler WK, 1924. Observations on the habits of the striped skunk (Mephitis mesomelas varians). Journal of Mammalogy, 5(3), 180-189.

DAISIE, 2015. Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe. DAISIE (online). http://www.europe-aliens.org/

Dijak, W. D., Thompson, F. R., 2000. Landscape and edge effects on the distribution of mammalian predators in Missouri. Journal of Wildlife Management, 64(1), 209-216. doi: 10.2307/3802992

Dubey JP, Hamir AN, Niezgoda M, Rupprecht CE, 1996. A sarcocytosis neurona-like organism associated with encephalitis in a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). The Journal of Parasitology, 82(1), 172-174.

Durden, L. A., Richardson, D. J., 2003. Ectoparasites of the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis, in Connecticut, U.S.A. Comparative Parasitology, 70(1), 42-45.

Ernst CH, 1975. Skull key to adult land mammals of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Chesapeake Science, 16(3), 198-204.

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

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Draft datasheet under review

Contributors

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24/08/16 Original text by:

Jessica Ward, School of Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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