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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Western Spotted Skunk
Order Carnivora : Family Mustelidae : Spilogale gracilis Merriam

Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis).  Photo by R.D. Porter.Description. Color pattern resembles that of the eastern spotted skunk, Spilogale putorius, but white marking is more extensive, the black and white stripes on upper back nearly equal in width (in putorius the black areas are much more extensive than the white); dorsal pair of white stripes begin between the ears or just posterior to them (on back of head in putorius); white area on face large, extending nearly from nose pad to a line back of eyes and covering more than half of area between eyes; underside of tail white for nearly half its length, the tip extensively white. External measurements average: (males), total length, 423 mm; tail, 134 mm; hind foot, 43 mm; (females), 360-129-40 mm. Weight of males, 565 g; of females, 368 g.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Recorded from southwestern part of state as far north as Garza and Howard counties and eastward to Bexar and Duval counties.

Habits. This skunk occupies a variety of habitats and often occurs in close association with man. In Texas, most records of capture indicate that it is most often associated with rocky bluffs, cliffs, and brush-bordered canyon streams or stream beds. In the Edwards Plateau, rock fences seem to be especially attractive, possibly because they also provide denning sites and serve as refuges for many kinds of animals on which the spotted skunks feed. They also have been reported denning in hollow logs and, since they are adept at climbing, in the attics of houses.

Their natural foods are not well documented, but they are known to feed on turkey eggs, young rabbits, mice, and such arthropods as grasshoppers and scorpions.

Sexually mature females come into heat in September and most of them are bred by the first week in October. The blastula stage of the embryo spends 180-200 days floating free in the uterus of the female before it becomes implanted. The two to five (average, four) young are born in late April and May after a total gestation period of from 210 to 230 days. Young females become sexually mature when only 4 or 5 months of age. Testes of both adult and young males begin to enlarge in March, are producing quantities of sperm by May, and reach their largest size during the height of the breeding season in September. In October, the testes begin to regress in size and the formation of sperm is halted. Thus, the males are incapable of fertilizing the females during the period from November through March. Even though the males are capable of breeding several months before the females come into heat, no breeding takes place until the females are receptive.

Remarks. The previous editions of this book followed Richard Van Gelder in placing all of the spotted skunks in Texas in the species Spilogale putorius. Subsequent studies conducted in the Pacific Northwest by Rodney Mead and in Texas by Robert Patton clearly indicate that we have two species. In addition to certain differences in color pattern and cranial features, the most striking differences between the two are found in their reproductive physiology and the period of the year when breeding takes place.

Photo credit: R.D. Porter.