Characterized by their conspicuous black and white markings and use of a strong, highly offensive odor for defense. The scent glands of skunks produce an oily, yellowish liquid, which the animal squirts with great force from vents under the tail; this produces a fine mist which, in addition to stinking, causes choking and tearing of the eyes. Skunks do not make use of this weapon unless severely provoked and then only after raising the tail in a warning display. Most animals quickly learn to recognize and avoid skunks, which are consequently quite fearless and move about openly. The two common skunks of the United States, the striped skunk and the spotted skunk, are nocturnal animals; their diets include rodents, insects, eggs, carrion, and vegetable matter. They live, often several individuals or families together, in dens made in abandoned burrows or buildings or in rock piles. Most familiar is the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis, of the United States, N Mexico, and Canada S of Hudson Bay. It has thick black fur, usually with two white stripes on the back. It is 13 to 18 in. (33–46 cm) long, excluding the bushy tail (7–10 in./18–25 cm), and weighs 6 to 14 lb (2.7–6.4 kg). Because it destroys pests, it is protected in many states. In northern parts of their range the animals sleep through much of the winter, but they do not truly hibernate and may emerge during warm spells. The small, slender, spotted skunk, Spilogale putorius, has several irregular white stripes or lines of spots. It inhabits Mexico and the W, S, and central United States. Its combined head and body length is 9 to 13 in. (23–33 cm) and the tail is 4 to 9 in. (10–23 cm) long. This skunk balances on its front paws as part of its warning display.