Cute little stinkers
This week’s “cutest little stinker” award goes to a pair of eastern spotted skunks. This brother and sister duo was found in someone’s garage and quickly evicted. They are resting comfortably at Peace River Wildlife Center now.
Spotted skunks are nocturnal creatures, with weasel-like bodies and fine, silky fur. They are slightly smaller (at 1 to 2 pounds) than the more common striped skunk (4 to 9 pounds), and much more agile. They are the only skunk that can climb trees.
Outside of breeding season, they travel around seeking temporary shelter from the heat of the day in rock and brush piles, long grasses, and abandoned gopher tortoise burrows, although they can dig their own dens. They are also not averse to a nice shady garage, so watch out for uninvited guests. It is not unusual to find many females together in a den, but males are normally solitary other than when searching for a mate or two. During late spring and early summer, the male skunks will visit harem sites and attempt to breed with as many females as possible.
Fights between male skunks for breeding privileges can involve scratching and biting, but they do not spray each other. The skunk’s malodourous musk is reserved for warding off predators like great-horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, and dogs (an us, of course.) They will normally stamp their feet in warning first. If that doesn’t work, they will go into a handstand. If the predator still hasn’t taken the hint, they can then shoot a stream of foul-smelling liquid as far as 15 feet.
Once pregnant, the female skunk will find her own den and return there the entire time she is raising her young. She gives birth to two to seven babies and is solely responsible for the care of her litter. They are born fully furred, with the same coat pattern as adults, but their eyes and ears will not open for a few weeks.
By the time they are four weeks old, the babies will accompany mom on excursions to find food. As omnivores they eat small rodents, snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, fruits, nuts, berries, and just about anything they can dig up, sniff out, or overpower.
The babies will be weaned by eight weeks—about the same time they develop musk and the ability to protect themselves from predators by spraying. At four months of age, they are fully grown and will leave mom’s den to seek their own refuge.
Spotted skunks have good hearing, but poor vision. The average lifespan is only one to two years in the wild, but they can live up to six years in captivity.
Some wildlife facilities specialize in different species: otters, skunks, raptors, sea turtles, etc. At PRWC we rescue, rehab, and release many different species, including mammals, birds, and reptiles—but we know our limitations. If we do not have the time, talent, or proper facilities to give any individual animal the best possible care, we will network with our contemporaries and find the proper place to transfer that animal. Conversely, PRWC will accept transfers from other facilities when we have the better infrastructure for a given species or injury.
Our tiny patients will be transferred to another facility that has other skunk babies already. Spotted skunks are fairly rare in SW Florida, so each wildlife rehabilitation facility does not see them often. By networking, we can have the babies raised together with others that have been orphaned, abandoned, or evicted. That will lessen the impact of human handling and better their chances of survival once released.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM