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Skunks: Spilogale putorius & Mephitis mephitis

Appearance:

Both skunk species are about the size of a house cat with a small head, short legs, and a bushy tail.

Habitat:

Florida is home to both the Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) and the Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). They occur throughout Florida except for the Keys.

Both species occur in brushy fields, weedy pastures, disturbed areas, and in residential and suburban areas.

Behavior:

spotted skunk pattern by Kristen NelsonSkunks are usually active at night.   Skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animal and vegetable substances.  They may be attracted by insects commonly found in lawns, fruit trees, gardens, or wherever food scraps are kept.  They will den in vacant armadillo or gopher tortoise burrows (though they can dig their own) or brush piles, wood piles, areas with high grass, and similar sources of shelter.

Female skunks generally give birth to a litter of 4-7 babies in the spring. Newborns are blind and have very fine hair with the same black and white pattern as they would have as adults.  When they are about six weeks old, the young follow their mother on food forays, searching for small mammals, insects, bird eggs, and amphibians, as well as roots, seeds, fruit and other plant parts. The mother and young stay together for several months, emerging from their underground burrows at night.

striped skunk by Kristen NelsonIn addition to teaching their young how to find food, mother skunks also model defensive strategies, the most effective of these being a pungent spray of oily musk from scent glands located near the anus. The spray is effectively aimed at targets up to 15 feet away. The spray deters predators such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes and domestic dogs.  Their chief predator is the great horned owl.

If you have problems with skunks you may be able to resolve the problem by simply removing the source of food attracting them. The animal may be caught in a trap, but relocating nuisance wildlife is illegal.  If you catch a skunk in a trap, avoid being sprayed by slowly approaching the trapped skunk and cover the trap with a small tarp or towel.  The trap must be moved very carefully without jarring the animal or frightening it by letting it see you.  Skunks, like all mammals, can carry rabies, but this has not been a serious problem in Florida.  FWC does not recommend handling wildlife with your bare hands.

Additional Information:


Image Credit: Kristen Nelson



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