|Eastern Spotted Skunk
Spilogale putorius interrupta (Rafinesque)
Description: Although both have striking black and white warning coloration, the eastern spotted skunk differs in some respects from the striped skunk in body shape and behavior. It can be distinguished by: 1) smaller, more slender, "weasel-like" body, 2) short legs, 3) claws on its front feet smaller than those of the striped skunk, and only slightly larger than the hind claws, 4) short, soft, fine black body fur, with a white triangular patch on the forehead and four to six broken white stripes which extend from the neck along the back and sides, and 5) solid black tail (some individuals have their tails bordered by white-tipped hairs). The striping pattern and amount of black and white color varies between individuals.
Size: Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 426-567 mm; tail 140-235 mm; hind foot 33-70 mm; ear 25-26 mm; weigh 425-661 grams. Males are larger than females.
Range and Habitat: In the early 1900's the eastern spotted skunk expanded its range throughout Kansas and, in some areas, became as common as the striped skunk. In recent years, however, populations have decreased in numbers (probably due to changing agriculturally practices) and the species is now either absent or extremely rare along the western border of the state, and not common elsewhere. This small mammal tolerates a wide range of habitats, but in the eastern part of Kansas it seems to prefer forest edge and upland prairie grassland, especially if rock outcrops and shrubs are present. In central and western Kansas the spotted skunk prefers riparian habitats. It tolerates the presence of humans, and fence rows, outbuildings and brush piles serve as den sites. It avoids mature forests and marshes.
Reproduction: The eastern spotted skunk breeds in March and April. After the eggs are fertilized they may not implant in the uterus for up to two weeks. The kittens are born in May or June following a 50 to 65 day gestation period. Litters range from two to nine (usually five) kittens. Kittens are born with their eyes and ears closed and weigh about 10 grams. They are born with a sparse coat of fine fur, the black and white markings already apparent. Their claws are well-developed, and they begin to crawl around the nest by the fourth day after birth. Their eyes and ears open about one month after birth, and their teeth begin to erupt after five weeks. Shortly after this time the kittens begin to explore near the den with the female. They start to eat solid food six weeks after birth, and by eight weeks they are usually weaned. They disperse from their natal burrow 14 to 16 weeks after they are born, and reach adult size by mid-October of their first year. The kittens are capable of breeding the spring after their birth when they are nine tor 10 months old.
Habits: Eastern spotted skunks are more nocturnal than striped skunks and are seldom seen during daylight hours. While foraging they tend to stay close to some form of shelter such as rocks, bushes, buildings and fence rows.
Summer dens may be constructed almost anywhere that is sheltered from light, wind and rain, such as underground burrows, hollow logs, abandoned buildings or rock and brush piles. Leaves and grass are sometimes gathered for nesting material. Within its home range an eastern spotted skunk usually has more than one den site. They use of a particular den seems to be based on the local abundance of food. The same den is frequently used by more than one skunk during the year. Winter dens are usually built or modified from existing burrows so that they extend below frost line.
Skunks vary their daily movements depending upon the weather and their reproductive condition. During cold weather they reduce their activity above ground and may range over an area of only 0.4 square kilometers. During the breeding season males may range over five to 10 square kilometers while searching for mates. in good habitat, populations may reach densities of five per square kilometer. The aggressive nature of adult males during rut indicates they may compete with each other for mates.
Food: Eastern spotted skunks are opportunistic, eating a wide variety of animals and plants. Diet items include voles, deer mice, rats, house mice, birds, bird eggs, insects, cherries, grapes, mulberries, persimmons, corn, and carrion. The predatory habits of this mammal on insects, rats and mice make it economically valuable.
Remarks: Like the striped skunk, the eastern spotted skunk stores musk in a pair of anal glands. The musk is used as a means of defense. Before spraying, eastern spotted skunks usually give a series of warnings. When startled they lift their tail, fanning out the fur. The second warning consists of foot stamping with the front feet. As a final warning they stand on their forepaws, with the tail bending forward over their back, and walk toward the source of the threat. They expel their musk by returning to all four feet, assuming a U-shaped stance with back arched, and contracting the muscles surrounding the scent glands. Eastern spotted skunk musk is reported to be stronger and more pungent than striped skunk musk.
Eastern spotted skunks are susceptible to rabies. However, because of their low numbers they probably do not represent a major health problem. Any individuals which are found active during daylight hours should be avoided. The primary predator of eastern spotted skunks is the great horned owl, although some large carnivores such as bobcats and coyotes have been reported to eat them. Eastern spotted skunks may live six years in captivity, but probably live only two or three in the wild.
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