The striped skunk belongs to the mustelid family, which includes weasels, ferrets, martens, fishers, mink, otters and badgers. Three other skunk species live in the United States: hooded and hognose skunks, which inhabit the Southwest; and the spotted skunk, found over much of the country, but in the East, north only to southwestern Pennsylvania. The species commonly found in Pennsylvania is the striped skunk. Widespread, it occurs in all 48 contiguous states, southern Canada, and northern Mexico, from sea level to timberline in suitable habitat. The word “skunk” comes from the Algonquin Indian name for the animal, seganku. Other names include polecat and the French Canadian enfant du diable, or “child of the devil.”
Skunks can live in an area for years and, because of their nocturnal habits, remain unseen — although perhaps not “unsmelled” — by most people. Some farmers welcome their presence, realizing that these small predators eat many pest insects and rodents.
Skunks live in a variety of habitats. They favor mixed wooods and brushland, rolling weedy fields, fencerows, wooded ravines, and rocky outcrops in or near agricultural areas. For day retreats (resting cover), they use hayfields, pastures, fencerows, and brushy borders of waterways. Cornfields are good feeding areas, where skunks forage for grasshoppers, grubs, and beetles; high corn plants also protect young skunks from airborne and land predators without impeding their movements. Although they may cover several miles each night while hunting, established individuals rarely wander more than half a mile from their home burrows. In general, adults range more widely than juveniles and males more widely than females.