Anyone who grew up watching Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings is well acquainted with the amorous Pepe Le Pew, a misguided striped skunk who seeks the affections of reluctant female cats whose fur colors match his own. In the real world, the male skunk is indeed the determined pursuer in the mating game, and he will reproduce with multiple partners each year. Conversely, the females are much more restricted.
Love Is in the Air
The breeding season for skunks typically falls between February and April. The males assertively pursue multiple females. Some frisky males will roam up to 5 miles in one night to rack up conquests. Once a female is impregnated, she aggressively shuns the male throughout the duration of her pregnancy. If the pregnancy fails before the end of the breeding season, she may become receptive and pregnant once again as late as May. A skunk’s reproductive process undergoes a period of delayed implantation -- this can last up to 19 days. Thus her gestation period is 59 to 77 days.
Striped From Birth
A skunk mother gives birth to a litter of two to 10 babies, or kits. Each kit weighs between 32 and 35 grams. They are born without coats, but their striped patterns are present in their skin pigmentation. By their eighth day, the kits are able to release musk from their scent glands, at 3 weeks of age, their eyes open. Kits nurse from their mothers until weaning occurs at 8 weeks of age. Once weaned, the young skunks venture out with their mother on hunting and foraging expeditions, trailing behind her single-file and learning the finer points of survival. From birth through this period, they are dependent on their mother’s protection. The male plays no role in parenting his offspring.
Growing Up Fast
By July or August, males begin to disperse and become independent. Their sisters will typically remain with their mother through nearly their first year of life. By 10 months of age, both males and females reach sexual maturity. Many skunks do not survive their first full year, falling victim to severe winter weather conditions, infectious disease, automobiles or predation by birds of prey, bobcats, foxes, mountain lion and coyotes. Barring these catastrophes, wild skunks live an average of 3 years.
Mating Season Once Again
Although skunks are not typically social, during the coldest winter months, skunks will burrow into dens together. They do not hibernate but remain dormant and rely on their fat stores for energy. They emerge in early spring, the start of the mating season. By this time, the previous season's young skunks are old enough to reproduce, and the mothers will also breed again. Skunks give birth to one litter annually. Only during the middle to late summer months will you witness a mother skunk followed by a single row of her little replicas in tow.