Compared to its larger cousin the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), the elusive Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is more agile and a better climber. Upon first seeing a spotted skunk, many people are surprised by its small size, which is typically not much larger than a tree squirrel. Nicknames include "tree skunk" and "weasel skunk."
Spotted skunks are nocturnal omnivores. Their diet includes insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, carrion, berries, and fungi.
When threatened, spotted skunks perform a foot-stomping handstand dance that exaggerates their size and shows off their black and white warning coloration. If this display does not deter the attacker, then the skunk uses its anal glands to spray a noxious oil, which can cause temporary blindness and nausea.
Photo by Damon Lesmeister, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
During the early 20th century, Eastern spotted skunks were a common and important furbearer across their range throughout most of central and southeastern United States. Since the 1940s, this species has experienced widespread population declines. While the exact reasons for their range-wide decline is unknown, a variety of possibilities suspected including habitat loss, pesticide use and overharvesting. Diseases such as rabies, distemper, or an unknown parvovirus could have also contributed to a reduction in numbers.
Eastern spotted skunks are a state protected species of high conservation concern. Any spotted skunk inadvertently caught in a furbearer trap should be released unharmed..
Research in Alabama
In Alabama, little is known about the biology and current status of the Eastern spotted skunk. Only a few recent confirmed sightings of spotted skunks are documented in the state and no research studies or surveys have been conducted, until now. Recently, researchers at the University of West Georgia documented the first known population of eastern spotted skunks in Alabama's Talladega National Forest.
Report a Sighting
If you see an Eastern spotted skunk, the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries wants to know about it. Report any sightings from roadkill, game cameras or inadvertent catch from fur trapping (The harvest of spotted skunks is now prohibited due to its conservation status).
■ Upload your observations to the Eastern Spotted Skunk project at www.inaturalist.org/projects/eastern-spotted-skunk or use the iNaturalist smartphone app, available for Android and iPhone.
Photo by Sara Miller, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission