Skunks are well-known for their distinct coloring and pungent odor, the latter of which is an invaluable self-defense mechanism in the wild. That does not mean skunks are without predators. Animals that kill and eat skunks may attack from the ground or from the air, and in some cases, they're virtually impervious to the effects of a skunk's odorous spray.
Habitat and Hiding
Skunks live all over the Americas, particularly the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico. They can survive in hot and cold weather, particularly because they live in nests, burrows and other secluded areas. Because they live across such a broad range of environments, these creatures are preyed upon by many species of animal, though the success that these predators enjoy when skunk-hunting depends largely on their tolerance of a skunk's self-defense measures.
Most predators with a sense of smell need only one encounter with a skunk before learning to keep their distance; and because skunks sport distinctive black-and-white coats, they're easily recognizable to predators. Any would-be attacker recognizing a skunk knows to stay away or will hunt the animal only as a last resort. As a mostly nocturnal animal, the skunk uses his coloring as camouflage in the dark, but his coat makes it unmistakably clear to those who do find him that he is, in fact, a skunk.
Some ground carnivores prey on skunks. While the exact number of species that prey on skunks is unknown, red foxes, cougars, coyotes and domestic dogs are among them. These animals tend not to prefer skunk, though, because it is difficult to successfully attack and kill one without being soaked in its pungent natural spray. Most such predators will prey on skunks only if their other options are limited or nonexistent.
Unfortunately for the skunk, his most notorious and effective defense mechanism is powerless against predators striking from the sky. Species like the great horned owl and the red-tailed hawk prey on skunks from above. While some birds of prey have a sense of smell, these ones and others have little to none, rendering them effectively invulnerable to the spray that keeps most other predators at bay.
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Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.