By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Everybody is familiar with the striped skunk that inhabits most of the southern United States. More affectionately known as the “polecat”, the striped skunk can be easily identified by its black and white body and foul odor. But did you know that there is a second species of skunk in this area? Spilogale putorius or Eastern Spotted Skunk is a rare species of skunk that researchers know little to nothing about and that is why help is wanted!
So far, we know that the spotted skunk is much smaller than its counterpart, the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). It is about the size of a squirrel weighing in at a whopping 1.5 lb. Most females weigh only a pound, contributing to the nicknames “tree skunk” and “weasel skunk”. The spotted skunk is also a much more slender version of skunk. The spotted skunk got its name from the irregular spots that can be found along its side and legs. Its tail has white underneath and a white tip (another distinguishing characteristic from the striped skunk). The characteristic that stands out the most is the white triangular patch of fur above the nose. This characteristic is found on ALL spotted skunks. Spotted skunks can be found in areas with pines and hardwoods, as well as pastures and roadsides. They prefer extended vegetative cover where they can hide and forage for food. In the summer months, the spotted skunk eats insects such as grasshoppers and beetles. During the winter, it will eat mice and young rabbits. When threatened, this species will stand upside down on its hands, flashing its black and white coloration. This tricks predators into thinking the skunk is much bigger than it really is. If this little skit does not warn off the predator, the “tree skunk” then uses those good ole anal glands to deter the predator. Other than the basic ecology of this species, scientists really don’t know much about this species. The spotted skunk experienced great population declines in the 1940s which is contributed to habitat loss, pesticide and possible overharvesting, but the exact reasons are unknown. Recently, a group of students from West Georgia have begun research on a localized population in the Talladega National Forest in Alabama. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries are asking for hunters and other outdoorsman to report any and all sightings (including roadkill and accidental trappings) to compile data and research on this amazing little species.
So if you are out and about and happen to spot what looks like a very small skunk, chances are you have encountered a spotted skunk! Take a picture if you can or simply report your coordinates to the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Harvesting of this species is forbidden due to their conservation status. Save the weasel skunk!
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