Great Plains Natural Science Society


Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 46:39–40; 2014


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are opportunistic with respect to habitat use (Bixler and Gittleman 2000), inhabiting an array of landscapes in the proximity of a permanent water supply, such as forest borders, old-fields, fencerows, and open grassy fields broken by wooded ravines (Schwartz and Schwartz 1981, Larivière and Messier 2000). Food quantity and accessibility are major factors determining the quality of striped skunk habitat (Larivière et al. 1999) and are important in the den site selection.

Dens play an important role in skunk survival and reproduction due to the warmth, predator protection, and safe location for parturition they provide (Hwang et al. 2007). Underground dens can be dug by striped skunks, or consist of buildings and abandoned dens originally dug by other mammals (Verts 1967, Bixler et al. 2000). During late fall, winter, and early spring, striped skunks use underground dens exclusively; however, females with young may continue using underground dens throughout late spring and summer (Wade- Smith et al. 1982).

Several studies have focused on skunks living in the grasslands of Canada (Larivière and Messier 1998a, b, Larivière et al. 1999, Larivière and Messier 2000, 2001, Hwang et al. 2007); we present data on skunks living along a major river system (Missouri River), including skunks inhabiting the unique upland grassland-woodland habitats of the Loess Hills of western Iowa. In this study we describe den characteristics of striped skunks living along the Missouri River and compare den characteristics between upland Loess Hills habitat and lowland floodplain areas.