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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Eastern Spotted Skunk
Order Carnivora : Family Mustelidae : Spilogale putorius (Linnaeus)

Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius).  Photo by John L. Tveten.Description. A small, relatively slender skunk with small white spot on forehead and another in front of each ear, the latter often confluent with dorsolateral white stripe; six distinct white stripes on anterior part of body, the ventrolateral pair beginning on back of foreleg, the lateral pair at back of ears, the narrow dorsolateral pair on back of head; posterior part of body with two interrupted white bands; one white spot on each side of rump and two more at base of tail; tail black except for a small terminal tuft of white; rest of body black; ears short and low on side of head; five toes on each foot, the front claws more than twice as long as hind claws, sharp and recurved. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 1/2 X 2 = 34. External measurements average: (males), total length, 515 mm; tail, 210 mm; hind foot, 49 mm; (females), 473-170-43 mm. Males weigh about 680 g; females, about 450 g.

Species distribution mapDistribution. Occurs in eastern one-half of state east of the Balcones Escarpment, westward through north-central Texas, to the Panhandle as far south as Garza County.

Habits. Spotted skunks are much more active and alert than any of the other skunks. They occur largely in wooded areas and tall-grass prairies, preferring rocky canyons and outcrops when such sites are available. They are less common in the short-grass plains. In areas where common, they have a tendency to live around farmyards and often den under or in buildings.

Their den sites are varied. In rocky areas they prefer cracks and crevices in the rocks or a burrow under a large rock. Since they are expert climbers, they occasionally den in hollow trees or in the attics of buildings. In settled communities they frequently live under buildings, in underground tile drains and in underground burrows. They are almost entirely nocturnal and seldom are seen in the daytime.

Their food habits are largely beneficial to the agriculturist although they can do considerable damage to poultry if they develop a taste for such food. Their seasonal natural foods consist of: winter — cottontails and corn; spring — native field mice and insects; summer — predominantly insects, with smaller amounts of small mammals, fruits, birds, and birds’ eggs; fall — predominantly insects, with small amounts of mice, fruits, and birds. They are excellent rat-catchers and can soon rid a barn of these pests.

Mating occurs in March and April. Some females possibly mate again in July and August and produce a second litter. The gestation period is estimated to be 50-65 days, and no known period of delayed implantation exists. The number of young in a litter may range from two to nine, but the usual litter consists of four or five young.

At birth the young are blind, helpless, and weigh about 9 g each; the body is covered with fine hair. The black and white markings are distinct. Their eyes open at the age of 30-32 days; they can walk and play when 36 days old; emit musk when 46 days old; and are weaned when about 54 days old. When 3 months old they are almost as large as adults. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 9-10 months in both sexes.

Their enemies, other than man, include dogs, coyotes, foxes, cats, bobcats, and owls. Their defensive behavior consists of a rapid series of handstands, which serve as a warning device to aggressors. If approached too closely, they drop to all fours in a horseshoe-shaped stance, lift their tail, and direct their anus and head toward the potential aggressor. The foul-smelling musk can be accurately discharged for a distance of 4-5 m.

Photo credit: John L. Tveten.