2017 November Report – Skunks

FOMR Walk and Talk for November, 2017: The Eastern Spotted Skunk, (Spilogale putorius)

William Cody Cornelison, Department of Biology, University of West Georgia, acquainted program participants with this feisty, nocturnal, squirrel-sized skunk, whose habits seldom bring it into contact with city and suburban dwellers. While much smaller than the more familiar striped skunk, its odoriferous defense mechanism is, however, just as powerful and unforgettable.

As part of his master’s thesis, Cody entices skunks to likely locations within the Talladega National Forest using cans of sardines attached to trees. When night vision cameras pick up skunks interested in the bait, traps are set so that the animals can be collared and tracked to gather information about their habitat range and den selection. These animals require quite a large amount of real estate, which is shared among the skunks with overlapping individual ranges. They do not hang out together after the pups (usually two) are weaned, but they do share sleeping dens on a sequential basis. The preferred habitat is in areas with rocky outcroppings and dense woody cover which can be accessed quickly by the animals when avoiding predators. These small predators help to control insects, mice, snakes and amphibians. And, as scavengers, they help clean up carrion from the woods. Once common, the spotted skunk is now rare.

Because these animals are secretive and require large, contiguous areas of undisturbed forest, it has been difficult to gather adequate data to accurately assess their status in Georgia. Citizen scientists have been asked to participate in collecting and communicating spotted skunk sightings from roadkill, game cameras or inadvertent catch from fur trapping. Sightings can be reported by uploading observations to the Eastern Spotted Skunk project at http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/eastern-spotted-skunk or use the inaturalist smartphone app. One may also email photographs with GPS coordinates to katrina.morris@dnr.ga.gov.