Food habits of prairie skunks are not well understood, yet such knowledge might provide insight into factors influencing nest depredation. We studied food habits of radiocollared adult striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) during 1976-78 in North Dakota, where skunks are regarded as important predators of ground-nesting birds. Plant foods, primarily grain and sunflower seeds, occurred in a larger percentage of scats in spring (15 Apr 31 May) than summer (1 Jun 15 July, P=0.04), but overall, plant foods were a minor part of skunk diets. Animal foods, primarily birds (including eggs), small rodents, and insects occurred annually in a large percentage of scats of all skunks. These foods were acquired nearly exclusively in grasslands. Percentage of scats containing animal foods was similar, irrespective of sex, season, or year (P>0.45). In spring, vertebrates occurred in a smaller percentage of scats of females than males (P<0.01). Among females, vertebrates also occurred in a smaller percentage of scats in spring than summer (P<0.01). Among all skunks, birds occurred in a smaller percentage of scats in spring than in summer (P<0.01). Both birds (P<0.02) and mammals (P<0.01) occurred in a smaller proportion of scats when wetland conditions were poor. Percentage of scats containing insects, the primary invertebrate food of skunks, did not vary by sex, season, or year (P>0.15). Insects were mostly adult and larval Coleoptera, larval Lepidoptera, and adult and nymph Orthoptera.
Additional publication details
Foods and foraging of prairie striped skunks during the avian nesting season