Eastern Spotted Skunk
The Eastern spotted skunks is a small, relatively slender skunk with a body shape like a weasel. Its black-and-white color is a warning against harming this small creature, as its defense mechanism is the emission of noxious odors from its well-developed scent glands. This mammal is also known as the civet cat, but this is incorrect and misleading because it is neither closely related to Old World true civets nor to cats.
Eastern spotted skunks inhabit much of the eastern part of the United States and small parts of Canada and Mexico, and also occur to the north in Minnesota and south in Central America and El Salvador, and in the west as far as eastern Wyoming and Colorado. Throughout the midwestern states they are found in the Appalachian Mountains, and they occur in the north as far as Pennsylvania, throughout Florida, and eastern Texas. The animals mostly occupy tall-grass prairies and wooded areas and often prefer rocky habitats.
Habits and lifestyle
An Eastern spotted skunk is a social, non-territorial animal. Different individuals may use the same den on different days. Dens usually are above ground, in a hole or a crevice under a hollow log, or stump. This species spends its winter in dens, but are not true hibernators, awakening sometimes on mild days to eat. It is mainly nocturnal, avoiding detection by climbing trees or freezing. Their coloring may camouflage them on moonlit nights. If these skunks feel threatened they will balance on their forefeet with their hind legs and tail up in the air, in the direction of the threat, this position enabling accurate spraying of the intruder with musk.
Diet and nutrition
Eastern spotted skunks are omnivores. In winter they eat corn and cottontails; in spring, insects and native field mice; in summer, insects and small amounts of fruit, birds, and birds' eggs; in fall, mostly insects.
Little is known about the mating system in Eastern spotted skunks, but skunks generally are polygynous species. A male generally wanders and becomes more active during the time of the mating season, and is known for which is called "mating madness," a condition in which they are likely to spray any large animals they encounter. Mating takes place in March and April, though in southern states females may mate during July or August if they have lost their first litter or not mated. Some females have two litters during one year. Gestation is for about 50-65 days, with litter sizes usually about 5-6. Young are born blind and they are helpless. Their bodies have a covering of fine hair with the distinct black and white coloring. Their eyes open after 30-32 days and at 36 days old they start to walk and play. At the age of 2 months they are weaned and are almost fully grown by 3 months. Both male and female are sexually mature at 11 months.
March-April, in southern states may occur in July-August
Habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction and the public persecution of skunks are probably the most common threats for the spotted skunk. As areas of nature are developed, populations of this species are expected to decline. Skunks prefer dense cover, generally not found in areas that are developed, so habitat loss is likely to lead to further decline in numbers. Humans are usually intolerant of skunks, so those that do not relocate when development occurs are often seen as nuisance wildlife and may be removed or killed. This species is also deliberately killed by people for their pelts. On roads they are often accidently killed when hit by motorists, as they are slow moving when crossing.
Eastern spotted skunk is widely distributed and was once common but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.
Since insects are the spotted skunk's primary source of food, spotted skunks play an important role in insect control. They may also affect predator populations (great horned owls), as items of prey.
Fun facts for kids
- Eastern spotted skunks are very good at catching rodents. They sometimes knock down beehives to get the honeycomb, despite being stung many times.
- This is the only skunk that is able to climb trees.
- Skunks roll caterpillars about on the ground in order to remove the hairs prior to eating them and also roll beetles that give off a defensive scent, which causes the beetle to use up its scent before it is eaten.
- Skunks spray a scent that is amber in color, musky in odor, and oily. The oily composition makes the smell difficult to get rid of, but eventually it will go away.
- The odor may take between two and four months to disappear from objects.