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 Spilogale putorius    (Linnaeus, 1758)

Eastern Spotted Skunk 


MN Status:

threatened
Federal Status:
none
CITES:
none
USFS:
none


Group:

mammal
Class:
Mammalia
Order:
Carnivora
Family:
Mephitidae
Habitats:

(Mouse over a habitat for definition)


Spilogale putorius

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Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation

  Basis for Listing

The eastern spotted skunk, also known as the civet cat, reaches its northernmost limit in the northcentral United States. Regional records for the eastern spotted skunk suggest that this species extended its range northward into Minnesota in the early 1900s. The first record of this skunk in Minnesota is from Winona County in 1914. The increasing number of small farms in the early 1900s may have been a factor in facilitating the range expansion of this skunk. As a result, the eastern spotted skunk was once numerous around farms, where it commonly made dens under houses or outbuildings and fed on stored crops, rodents attracted to grain stores, and small farm animals such as chickens and their eggs.

The reported trapping harvest in Minnesota peaked at 19,400 animals in 1946, when the eastern spotted skunk was regularly taken throughout all but the northeastern corner of the state. Since then, the population in Minnesota and throughout the species' range has declined sharply (Gompper and Hackett 2005), and by 1965 less than 1,000 eastern spotted skunks were taken in the state annually. Despite intensive efforts to locate them, a maximum of 6 eastern spotted skunks have been documented in the last 20 years in Minnesota. Reasons for the population decline are unclear, but the consolidation of farms, the modernization of farming practices, and the use of pesticides may have been contributing factors. Additionally, changes in grain handling practices and modifications of building and storage facilities to exclude skunks and rodents eliminated many den sites and reduced food sources for skunks. These relatively slow changes however, are unlikely to be the sole cause of this species' swift decline (Gompper and Hackett 2005). The eastern spotted skunk was originally assigned special concern status in Minnesota in 1984. However, intensive surveys documented only 4 animals from 1990-1992, suggesting that only a few small, isolated populations remained in Minnesota. As a result, the eastern spotted skunk was reclassified as threatened in 1996.

  Description

The eastern spotted skunk can be easily confused with the more common striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Both species have a characteristic bushy tail, black and white pelage, and pungent odor. The eastern spotted skunk is smaller 46-56 cm (18-22 in.) than the more common striped skunk 64-76 cm (25-30 in.) and has a more complex pattern of white spots or broken stripes than does the striped skunk, which has 2 white stripes running from head to tail. The eastern spotted skunk generally has a white-tipped tail.

  Habitat

Eastern spotted skunks are generally found in open lands with sufficient cover, such as fencerows, shelterbelts, thickets, brush, and riparian woodlands. In agricultural areas they use buildings, corncribs, trash piles, rock piles, and haystacks for cover and den sites.

  Biology / Life History

Eastern spotted skunks spend the winter in dens, but they are not true hibernators and may awaken on mild days to feed (Hazard 1982). They are social, non-territorial animals, and different skunks may use the same den site on different days. Dens are usually above ground, in a cavity or crevice under a rock pile, hollow log, or stump. Mating usually takes place in April, and litters of 4-6 young are born in July. The young are weaned after about 54 days (Kinlaw 1995). Although eastern spotted skunks are generally insectivorous, they are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything they can find, including carrion, birds, eggs, small mammals, lizards, snakes, frogs, fruits, corn, and garbage. During the winter, small rodents are their primary food source. This species is mainly nocturnal, and escapes detection by climbing a tree or freezing in place (their color pattern is thought to camouflage them during moonlit nights). If an eastern spotted skunk feels threatened it will balance on its forefeet with its hind legs and tail in the air, directed towards the threat. From this position, the skunk can aim and accurately spray the intruder with musk (Kinlaw 1995).

  Conservation / Management

Special attention should be given to documenting sightings or accidental captures of the eastern spotted skunk. Requests for recent information should be sent out periodically to groups most likely to have encountered the species, such as farmers, trappers, fur buyers, and wildlife managers. If an eastern spotted skunk is trapped or sighted, an intensive live-trapping effort around the area should be conducted to document whether a population exists in the vicinity.

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

In 1993, a study to determine the status and distribution of the eastern spotted skunk in Minnesota was funded by the Minnesota DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program. Numerous methods were used to obtain information about eastern spotted skunk occurrences, including contacting trappers and fur buyers, writing articles in newsletters and magazines, distributing posters throughout the historic range of the species, and trapping in 4 counties. Four animals were reported during this study, but no populations were located (Wires and Baker 1994). In 1995, the Minnesota Biological Survey made an intensive live-trapping effort in areas where eastern spotted skunks were reported during the 1993 study. No eastern spotted skunks were captured in the 1995 study (Meier 1995).

  References

Gompper, M. E., and H. M. Hackett. 2005. The long-term, range-wide decline of a once common carnivore: the Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius). Animal Conservation 8:195-201.

Hazard, E. B. 1982. The mammals of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 280 pp.

Kinlaw, A. 1995. Spilogale putorius. Mammalian Species 511:1-7.

Meier, T. 1995. Trapping survey for Spotted Skunks (Spilogale putorius) in Ottertail County, Minnesota. Report submitted to the Minnesota County Biological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 8 pp.

Wires, L. R., and R. J. Baker. 1994. Distribution of the Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) in Minnesota. Final report submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Zoological Society of Minnesota. 14 pp.