Skip to main content - The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids



Skunk Facts

Size 5-20 in (12-51 cm)
Speed Up to 10 mph (16 km/h)
Weight 0.6-10 lb (6.3 kg)
Lifespan 3 years
Food Fish, fruit, seeds, grasses
Predators Owls, coyotes, wild cats
Habitat South Canada, USA, Mexico
Order Carnivore
Family Skunks
Scientific name Mephitidae
Characteristics Mostly black and white striped fur, bad smell

Main Characteristics

Skunks are small carnivorous animals that live in the steppes, semi-deserts, bushland, and open forests of North, Central, and South America. They are known for spraying a bad smelling liquid.

Skunk Photo: Debbie Steinhausser/Shutterstock


The family of skunks includes the striped skunk, the spotted skunk, the American hog-nosed skunk, and the stink badger. The animals can be easily recognized with their black and white fur. They are about as big as a domestic cat. The award for the worst smelling skunk „perfume“ goes to the striped skunk.


Skunk Photo: Debbie Steinhausser/Shutterstock

The Stinking Perfume

The "Eau de Skunk" smells like a mix of garlic, sulphur, burnt rubber and addled eggs. You can still smell it at a distance of 2.4 miles (4 km)! The yellow oil is produced in two glands situated below the tail. The liquid does not only smell bad but also causes temporary blindness. Humans suffer from it, too. If you swallow the substance, you will have to throw up and possibly become unconscious.

How Far Do They Spray Their "Perfume"?

There are different opinions: Some say the skunk can spray its perfume up to a distance of 10 feet (3 meters), others are convinced that it even reaches distances of up to 20 feet (6 meters).

Skunk Perfume in Your Clothes

If a skunk has contaminated your clothes, you can only throw them away. You will never ever get rid of the smell, no matter how often you put your clothes into the washing machine. Even on your skin the smell persists for days without fading.

Defense Behavior

Skunks use their "stink gun" rather carefully because they needs several days until the glands refilled the smelly substance. If skunks feel threatened they first cock their tails. For most animals, this warning is sufficient. They take to their heels and run away. If the first warning was ignored, the skunks form an "U"-shape with their bodies. Head and tail point towards the enemy. They also bare their teeth. Now, an attack seems to be almost inevitable.


Skunk Photo: Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities

Immune to Snake Venom

A snake bite can't kill a skunk. To eventually die from it, a skunk would have to get ten times as much venom as an animal of similar size.

Life Expectancy

90% of all skunks do not survive the first winter and do not get older than three years. Pet skunks can reach an age of up to 15 years.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Predators

Skunks can't run very quickly. Thus they would be an easy prey for many enemies. But the only animal which dares to attack this stinking prey is the great horned owl. It doesn't mind the stinking liquid produced by the skunk. Why? This is easy: Because the owl has a very bad sense of smell.

Fun Facts

Do Skunks Fight Each Other?

Of course you would assume that skunks spray their perfume at each other during a fight (e.g. for a lady skunk). But this has never been observed yet.

Skunk Photo: James Coleman/Shutterstock

The Skunk Is Related To:

Animals in the Same Biome:

Related Articles:

Predator Species Fact Sheets


Most Read Mammal Fact Sheets

See all topics on