Spotted Skunk

Last updated: November 29, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Holly Kuchera/Shutterstock.com

Spotted skunks are known for their acrobatic abilities. They perform handstands before spraying their enemies.

Spotted Skunk Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Mephitidae
Genus
Spilogale

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Spotted Skunk Locations

Spotted Skunk Locations

Spotted Skunk Facts

Prey
arthropods, small mammals, eggs, lizards, snakes, carrion, frogs, birds, and larvae
Name Of Young
kits
Group Behavior
  • Social
  • Gregarious
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Spotted skunks are known for their acrobatic abilities. They perform handstands before spraying their enemies.
Most Distinctive Feature
black and white patterns on fur
Other Name(s)
civet cat, polecat, hydrophobian skunk, phoby skunk, phoby cat, tree skunk, weasel skunk, black marten, little spotted skunk, four-lined skunk, four-striped skunk, and sachet kitty
Gestation Period
50 to 65 days
Age Of Independence
four months
Litter Size
four to six babies
Habitat
forests, riparian hardwood, shrubbery, thickets, and regions with a moving body of water such as streams. They also like tall-grass prairies and rocky zones.
Predators
foxes, coyotes, raptors, and birds of prey, particularly great-horned owls.
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
5.5
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
spotted skunk
Number Of Species
4
Location
Canada, the United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America like El Salvador.
Group
surfeit
Nesting Location
abandoned dens in hollow logs or slumps

Spotted Skunk Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
one to two years in the wild, and ten years in captivity
Weight
less than two pounds
Length
body to snout length is 4.5 to 13.6 inches and their tail is 2.8 to 8.7 inches long
Age of Sexual Maturity
eleven months to one year
Age of Weaning
two months
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Spotted skunks are known for their acrobatic abilities. They perform handstands before spraying their enemies.

Facts

  • They are the only skunks that can climb trees.
  • The pygmy spotted skunk can fit into the palm of a person’s hand.
  • These skunks give a fair warning before they spray nasty fumes. They stamp their front feet, hiss, and raise their tails. Then they perform repeated handstands.
  • This animal has a very unique and gorgeous fur pattern. Unfortunately, hunters kill them for their pelts, which brands use to make clothes.
  • They are endangered in several places due to habitat loss and poaching.
  • Some spotted skunks knock down honeycombs for the honey, despite the risk of bee stings.
  • During the mating season, males get a testosterone boost and go around spraying bigger animals.
  • Their secretion is very oily and doesn’t go away easily. It takes an average of two to four months for the smell to dissipate from an object.
  • Some spotted skunks can swim but prefer to do so only when their lives are in danger.
  • Western spotted skunks are capable of living in urban areas populated by humans. They can adapt well to these conditions without the risk of endangerment.

Spotted Skunk Summary

These skunks are definitely adorable creatures, but they pack a rancid punch if you ever get in their way. These weasel-like, wild creatures have a distinct, beautiful black and white pattern which makes them easily distinguishable from other types of skunks. Unfortunately, some species are at risk of endangerment.

Scientific Name

Spotted skunks make up the genus Spilogale, a name derived from the Greek words spilo which means “spotted” and gale meaning “weasel.” This is a befitting name as the skunk does resemble the weasel. However, skunks no longer belong to the weasel family, Mustelidae. Scientists placed them into their own family called Mephitidae. Their closest relatives are stink badgers.

They consist of four official species:

  • Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius)
  • Western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis)
  • Pygmy spotted skunk (Spilogale pygmaea)
  • Southern spotted skunk (Spilogale angustifrons)

Although biologists strongly believe that there are about three more species, conducting research has been difficult because catching the skunks is a pretty difficult task.

Other names for these skunks are civet cat, polecats, phoby skunk, phoby cat, tree skunk, weasel skunk, black marten, little spotted skunk, four-lined skunk, four-striped skunk, and sachet kitty.

Evolution and History

Spotted skunks belong to the skunk family Mephitidae, which also consists of stink badgers. The members of this family have the distinct trait of possessing well-developed anal scent glands which are capable of producing secretions that repel their enemies.

Mephitidae comprises four living genera with 12 species among them. The Spilogale genus contains four of these species.

The spotted skunks diverged 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. One million years ago, the skunks divided into clades, or genetic subgroups based on adaptations to different geological barriers, and, more significantly, due to climate change during the Ice Age. These different adaptations resulted in the skunks evolving genetic differences.

The members of the genus Spilogale are the only skunks that can climb trees. They have claws which can be used for digging, and some have adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle and live in dens that are partially submerged in water. Some species of terrestrial spotted skunks can also swim when their lives depend on it.

Spotted Skunk Appearance

Spotted skunk
The spotted skunk has six white stripes on the anterior side of their body and two white bands on the posterior side.

©JayPierstorff/Shutterstock.com

They are medium-sized animals with unique black and white fur patterns. Although they no longer belong to the weasel family, Mustelidae, they still closely resemble them. They have small, tapered heads and round, blunt noses. They have slender bodies that grow chunkier towards the rear. Their fur is shortest on the head and longest on the tail.

Spotted skunks have six white stripes on the anterior side of their body and two white bands on the posterior side. They have one white spot on each side of their rump and two around the base of their tail. These skunks also have one white spot on their forehead and in front of each ear.

Their snout to rear body length is around 4.5 to 13.6 inches and their tail is 2.8 to 8.7 inches long. They have 34 teeth and five toes on each of their four feet. These toes have curved, sharp claws that are digging and climbing tools. The claws on their fore feet are over twice as long as the ones on their back feet.

All skunks have special glands in their anal region that spray a foul-smelling oily secretion. They use this secretion to defend themselves against attackers.

Males are generally larger in size than the females. Both sexes generally weigh less than two pounds.

Spotted Skunk Behavior

Spotted skunks are generally nocturnal and active animals. They hunt and forage in the night and rest during the day. Out of all the members of the skunk family, the spotted skunks are the only ones with the ability to climb.

Despite being perfectly capable of digging their own homes, they usually live in dens made by other animals like gophers, wood rats, or armadillos.

Most species are very gregarious animals, and they don’t mind sharing their dens with other skunks. It is a common occurrence to find up to eight skunks sharing a den together. However, this is not always the case with all members of the group. Maternal skunks prefer to share their dens only with other maternal skunks. Also, when mating season rolls around, the skunks are less interested in communal living. A group of skunks is called a surfeit.

Some species live mostly solitary lives until mating season.

Skunks are notorious for their defensive ability to spray foul-smelling liquid on anything or anyone who threatens them. Spotted skunks do the same thing but in a more unique and almost comical way.

When they feel threatened, they can project a repulsive oily liquid from their anal glands over 13 feet. However, what makes the spotted skunk unique is that it sprays this secretion while doing acrobatic handstands with both hind feet in the air. It assumes this position when it feels threatened so that it can keep its eyes on its assailant before showering it in the repugnant liquid.

These skunks don’t often spray at the first sign of an opponent. First, they issue a warning by stamping on the ground, hissing, and raising their tails, giving their assailant enough time to escape.

Spotted Skunk Diet

These animals are opportunistic omnivores. This means that they will typically eat anything they can get their hands on. Their diet depends strongly on the time of the year. They eat fruits, berries, corn, garbage, and also arthropods, small mammals, eggs, lizards, snakes, carrion, frogs, birds, and larvae. The eastern spotted skunk has even foraged for wild honey from honeycombs, all while enduring stings from the angry bees.

Habitat and Population

Spotted skunks inhabit North American regions such as Canada, the United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America like El Salvador.

They typically prefer to live in forests, riparian hardwood, shrubbery, thickets, and regions with a moving body of water such as streams. They also like tall-grass prairies and rocky zones.

These animals make their nests in dens located in natural hollows such as slumps or in logs. They often occupy abandoned dens, preferring this rather than digging their own.

The western spotted skunk inhabits the southern region of British Columbia all the way down to Central America. They also live in some U.S. states like Texas, Montana, and Colorado.

The eastern spotted skunk lives in the southeastern and central parts of the United States and Mexico. Its population declined rapidly in the 1940s and it is considered endangered by several state agencies. The eastern spotted skunk is currently listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List of threatened Species. The pygmy spotted skunk, whose native origin is Mexico, is also considered a vulnerable species. Both of these species’ populations are decreasing.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Mating season starts around March or April depending on the species. From March, the testes of the male begin to swell up and testosterone production rises. During this period, they exhibit certain behaviors known as “mating madness” where they wander about spraying bigger animals at will.

The skunks begin to mate around this time and the baby skunks are usually conceived in about 14 to 16 days. The gestation period typically lasts for 50 to 65 days. About four to six baby skunks called kits are born with the average litter size being 5.5.

The kits are born blind and helpless and their eyes don’t open until after one month. They are also covered with a fine down that is patterned with the unique markings of a spotted skunk. Kits are able to eat solid food at about 42 days old and they are weaned at two months.

The skunk babies grow to adult size at three months old and leave the nest at four months old. They become sexually mature at 11 months to one year old.

Parental responsibilities fall on the mothers only, as the males do not assist in raising the young.

Spotted skunks have a lifespan of one to two years in the wild, and up to 10 years in captivity.

Predators and Threats

Spotted skunks are preyed upon by larger carnivores including foxes, coyotes, raptors, and birds of prey, particularly great-horned owls.

They face many threats outside of predation. Eastern spotted skunks are poached by humans for their pelts to use for clothes. Two species are considered vulnerable with decreasing populations in their regions. In many states, they are considered endangered or threatened. Conservation efforts are being made to protect these species and save their populations from further decline.

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Spotted Skunk FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do spotted skunks eat?

They eat fruits, berries, corn, garbage, and also arthropods, small mammals, eggs, lizards, snakes, carrion, frogs, birds, and larvae.

What eats spotted skunks?

Spotted skunks are preyed upon by larger carnivores including foxes, coyotes, raptors, and birds of prey, particularly great-horned owls.

Do spotted skunks spray?

Spotted skunks do spray, but they warn before they do so by stamping their front feet, hissing, and raising their tails. Then they perform repeated handstands as their final act of caution before spraying their enemy.

Are spotted skunks dangerous?

Spotted skunks are not typically dangerous. Spraying a foul-smelling secretion is their primary means of defense. They give a fair warning before they spray, so you have enough time to run.

How many species of spotted skunks are there?

There are four official species of spotted skunk: The eastern spotted skunk, western spotted skunk, pygmy spotted skunk, and southern spotted skunk.

What kingdom do spotted skunks belong to?

Spotted skunks belong to the kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do spotted skunks belong to?

Spotted skunks belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do spotted skunks belong to?

Spotted skunks belong to the class Mammalia.

What order do spotted skunks belong to?

Spotted skunks are members of the order Carnivora.

What family do spotted skunks belong to?

Spotted skunks belong to the family Mephitidae.

 

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Sources
  1. Animal Diversity, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Spilogale_putorius/#conservation_status
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_skunk
  3. MN Mammals, Available here: https://mnmammals.d.umn.edu/spotted-skunk
  4. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?taxonomies=120928&searchType=species
  5. Science Daily, Available here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170503131927.htm

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