Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis).—E.R. Degginger

Any of several black-and-white New World species in the carnivore family Mephitidae that eject an odoriferous liquid (as far as 12 ft [3.7 m]) when threatened. The liquid becomes a fine mist that causes tearing of the eyes and choking. Some scent-gland secretions are used in perfume. Species vary in colour pattern and size. Most are 18–37 in. (46–93 cm) long, including the bushy tail, and weigh 2–13 lb (1–6 kg); the two species of spotted skunk (genus Spilogale) are much smaller. Skunks eat rodents, insects, eggs, birds, and plants. The striped, or common, skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is a nocturnal feeder that occurs in most of North America. With its scent glands removed, it is sometimes kept as a pet. The common skunk is a major carrier of rabies, which is fatal to skunks. The seven species of hog-nosed skunk (genus Conepatus) have a long, bald snout. The hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura) has a neck ruff.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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