Skunks are members of the weasel family. However, unlike other animals of that clan, skunks are not known for their agility and speed. The average skunk is about the size of an adult house cat, typically weighing about 5-8 pounds and growing to about 29 inches long. Females are slightly smaller than males. There are four species of skunks that can be found in North America, but the most recognizable species --- the striped skunk --- is only found in New England.
Skunks are nocturnal creatures, which means they sleep during the day and come out at night. Some of the preferred places skunks will sleep are underground burrows, especially ones that have been abandoned by other animals, hollowed out logs, or brush piles. Skunks in the city can set up their dens under buildings, decks, porches or sheds. They come out at night in their search for food. Staples of the skunk's diet include insects, grubs, small rodents, snakes, frogs, mushrooms, berries, pet food, bird food and garbage.
Skunks don't hibernate in the winter. Females can usually be found huddled together around the den during the cold weather. Mating for skunks occurs between February and March. After mating, the males leave the females and other than the mating season, males are typically solitary creatures. Gestation is approximately nine weeks and the female usually has a litter of between four to six kits (baby skunks). The kits leave their mother during the fall of their first year.
The skunk's spray is its defense against danger. Skunks are typically mild-mannered and will not spray unless provoked. They are superb marksmen with their spray, having the ability to hit their target from 10 feet away or more. A skunk warns its victims before it sprays by facing them with its tail straight up in the air. Then it stomps its front feet, turns and sprays. The skunk aims for the victim's eyes and the spray can cause temporary blindness and nausea.
Skunks are susceptible to rabies and, if infected, can bite and pass the disease to humans or domestic pets. There are two types of rabies an animal can get. The "furious" form of rabies can cause an animal to become aggressive and disoriented, and to snap or bite at anything in its way. The "dumb" form causes a wild animal to act unnaturally tame or friendly. Skunks that seem tame or listless and wander about during daylight hours or skunks that show no fear of people or pets and exhibit aggressive behavior should be regarded as dangerous and reported to the community's animal control officer.
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