Eastern Spotted Skunk

Spilogale putorius
Endangered
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Mephitidae (skunks) in the order Carnivora

Description

The eastern spotted skunk is a medium-sized, slender mammal with a small head, short legs, and a prominent, long-haired tail. The eyes are small and the ears short. The fur is rather long, soft, and glossy. The overall color is black with conspicuous white stripes and spots. A white spot occurs on the forehead and in front of each ear. Four white stripes along the neck, back, and sides extend from the head to about the middle of the body. Behind these, more white stripes and spots occur. The tail is usually all black, sometimes with a white tip. The spotted skunk is also called a civet cat, but this name is misleading and incorrect because this mammal is not closely related to the true civets of the Old World or to cats.

Size

Total length: 14–24 inches; tail length: 4½–11 inches; weight: ¾–2¾ pounds (males are heavier than females).

FG-0112_Spotted_Skunk.mp4

Video of a spotted skunk.
Habitat and conservation

Spotted skunks inhabit open prairies, brushy areas, and cultivated land. They seem to require some form of cover such as a brushy field border, fence row, or heavily vegetated gully between the den and foraging areas. In the Ozark Highlands, they are found more commonly in woodland habitats with extensive leaf litter and downed logs.

Foods

Skunks eat plant and animal materials in about equal amounts in fall and winter, but they take more animal matter during spring and summer when insects, their preferred food, are more available. They eat bees and wasps as well as their hives, larvae, and honey. Skunks also eat large numbers of mice, rats, moles, shrews, ground squirrels, young rabbits, and chipmunks. The larger mammals are usually eaten as carrion, while the smaller ones are caught by the skunk. Birds and their eggs are rarely eaten.

image of Eastern Spotted Skunk Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, but least abundant in the Mississippi Lowlands of the Bootheel, where there is little high land for den sites.

Status

Nowhere in its range is the spotted skunk as common as the striped skunk, and in recent years it has declined drastically due to loss of habitat. Formerly, the plains spotted skunk subspecies (Spilogale putorius interrupta) was most common in the western half of the state, but it is now extremely rare and is listed as Endangered in Missouri. The decline is mainly due to farming practices that eliminate the brushy cover this species requires. Pesticides have hastened the decline of these insectivores.

Life cycle

Spotted skunks mate in late winter, and the young are born from April to July; possibly a second litter is produced in late summer. At birth, young skunks are almost naked, but they possess the beginning of the adult's characteristic black and white markings. They are weaned at about 54 days of age, and breeding occurs at 1 year. Males do not participate in the rearing of the young.

Human connections

The fur has been used to make jackets and trimming for coats. Skunks are good mousers and help control insects. Thus they are an asset around farms. They are interesting and valuable members of a farm wildlife community. The harvest of spotted skunks is now closed due to the species' Endangered status.

Ecosystem connections

Skunks consume smaller animals and insects, helping to control their populations; as scavengers, skunks help clean up the woods. Despite the foul-smelling spray, some animals, such as great horned owls, prey on skunks.

Signs & Tracks

Front track:

  • 1 to 1 5/8 inches long
  • 5 toes.

Hind track:

  • 7/8 to 1 3/8 inches long (slightly smaller than front)
  • 5 toes
  • claw imprints rarely show
  • heel seldom shows.

Other notes:

  • In Missouri, the spotted skunk is rare, and populations are declining.
  • The claws often leave marks.
  • Distance between tracks is about 3 inches.
Illustration of eastern spotted skunk tracks