Spotted Skunks - Costa Rica's Noctuturnal Mammals

Spotted Skunk

October 7th, 2013 by Anamaya Resort

Biology

Spotted SkunkThe Western Spotted Skunk is a tiny, relatively slender skunk with glossy black fur interrupted with distinct white stripes on the forward part of the body. The posterior portion of the body has two interrupted white bands with one white spot on each side of the rump and a couple more at the base of its tail. The top of the tail is dark and the lower side is extensively white. The tip of the tail is white. A white spot is present on the forehead and another in front of each ear. External measurements in males average 411 millimeters in total length, 122 millimeters for the tail and 50 millimeters for the back foot. In females, external measurements average 387 millimeters in total length, 116 millimeters for the tail, and 47 millimeters for the hind foot. Males weigh about 630 grams, whereas females weigh about 450 grams. Commonly seen all around Costa Rica, the spotted skunk is a mammal that resembles a cat, though it’s wider. It is dark colored with several white spots, and has a distinct white mark on its forehead. All skunks have a color pattern different pattern from each other much like fingerprints in a human, which can be used to identify individual creatures. The spotted skunk is known to the smallest species among skunks. Its size ranges from 21 to 25 inches long, including the tail. It moves are similar to those of a cat and other members of the cat family. A spotted skunk has larger carnassial teeth than many other skunks. These are used to cut easily through their prey’s flesh. Also, the spotted skunk has sharp claws for climbing trees and digging for insects.

Skunks are a species belonging to the weasel family (Mustelidae). All members of this family (skunks, river otters, long-tailed weasels, least weasels, and mink) sport highly distinguishable musk glands. Striped skunks are short, stocky mammals about the size of a domestic house cat. They typically have a triangular-shaped head that tapers to a blunt nose, a big bushy tail, and huge feet with well-developed claws. Spotted skunks are about half the size of striped skunks and are much more weasel-like. They can be readily identified by white spots in front of each ear and on the forehead and four to six broken white stripes on the back. These animals are much more nervous than striped skunks and are more dexterous climbers. They are immediately intimidated by the sight of an approaching intruder.

One of the most fascinating aspects of their biology is that they have 2 anal glands that are filled with musk that are used to spray on their predators. When a skunk sprays, it squeezes the anal glands together and the musk comes out an anal opening. However, there is a process the skunk goes through before spraying its enemy with the musk. The skunk first gives a clear indication of the impeding process by stamping its front paws. If the intruder overlooks it, the spotted skunk then stands erect and struts around. It then stands on its front paws and waves its rear end in the air as signalling definite supremacy. After that, the skunk sprays its enemy. The musk can linger on the same spot for several days. Most animals take heed the clue and stay away from the skunk after they’ve been sprayed on. Skunks are also good swimmers, but they swim only when they are embroiled in a life threatening situation. They prefer to stay away from water as much as possible and prefer living in the midst of vegetation, which is why they can easily be spotted on beach peripherals and national parks.

The western spotted skunk mates in October and gives birth in March or April the following year. These sets of birth times vary occasionally owing to the fact that female skunks can prolong the birth process until the food is available in abundance. Mother skunks can produce up to 6 pups at a time. A skunk’s gestation period is 50-65 days, longer with implantation. They reach sexual maturity at 4-5 months. Their birth interval is 2 years. During the initial 8 weeks baby skunks feed off their mother’s milk. After they have been weaned, the mother gets live prey for her young ones, and eventually teaches her brood to hunt for themselves. The male shunk does not play a significant role in its life cycle, staying solitary in the summer and at times sleeping with the mother and pups in the winter.

The pups develop musk glands when they are about a month old. They reach full size at 4 months. Skunks can survive up to a decade in captivity. A normal spotted skunk’s diet in the winter consists fundamentally of smaller mammals such as rats and other rodents. However, in the summer, the skunk’s diet changes to more vegetation and larvae The skunks generally also combine the vegetation with small mammals to bring about more variety in their diet. In the autumn, a skunk typically incorporates fruit and berries to its diet. In the winter, the skunk goes back to its primary diet, small mammals. Normally the spotted skunk has no major predators hunting it as it instinctively shoots its musk to defend itself. However, great horned owls and bobcats have been known to attack them frequently. Skunks are especially useful to humans by helping them keep the rodent population in check. Spotted skunks are commonly spotted mammals and are not considered endangered. Spotted skunks are known to inhabit most of their habitat densely.

Skunks are crepuscular and solitary animals when they are not breeding, though in the colder parts of their range, they may gather in communal dens just for the warmth. During daytime, they hide themselves in burrows which they can dig with their powerful front paws. Males and females occupy overlapping home ranges through a major part of the year, typically 2 to 4 km2 (0.77 to 1.5 sq mi) for females and up to 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi) for males. Skunks are not true hibernators in the winter, but are known to hide for extended periods of time. They remain generally inactive and feed rarely, going through a lethargic stage. Over winter, multiple females (as many as 12) are seen huddling together; males often den alone. Often, the same winter den is repeatedly used. Although they have excellent senses of smell and hearing, spotted shunks are not blessed with great vision, being unable to see objects more than about 3 m (10 ft) away, often making them vulnerable to death by road traffic. They are short-lived; their lifespan in the wild can reach seven years, with most living only up to a year. In captivity, they may live for up to 10 years.

Where To Spot Them

These intuitive nocturnal mammals can be spotted all over Costa Rica and Montezuma. They can often be spotted breaking into Anamaya and scampering around the property looking for vegetation and rodents. Early morning, late afternoon and nights are the best times for skunk viewing, particularly around vegetation. The can also be viewed at most national parks across the country.