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Western spotted skunk

western spotted skunk, western spotted skunk photo
The western spotted skunk Spilogale gracilis is a spotted skunk of the west of North America


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Distribution and habitat
  • 3 Behavior and biology
  • 4 Taxonomy and etymology
  • 5 Subspecies
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


With a total length of 35–45 cm 14–18 in, the western spotted skunk is smaller than the striped skunk Mephitis mephitis Males, which weigh 336 to 734 g 119 to 259 oz, are significantly heavier than females, at 227 to 482 g 80 to 170 oz, but only about 6% longer, on average The adult is boldly striped black and creamy white, with three longitudinal stripes on each side of the front part of the body, and three vertical stripes on the hind-parts One pair of longitudinal stripes runs either side of the spine, with the second pair running over the shoulders, and extending forward onto the face The third pair is lower over the shoulders, and curves downward at the middle of the body to form the first pair of vertical stripes Behind this, the second pair of vertical stripes rise from the knees to the rump, while the final stripes are often little more than spots3

The ears are short and rounded, while the face is marked with a white spot between the eyes, and a white patch below each ear The animal has a conspicuously large, long-haired tail, measuring 10 to 16 cm 39 to 63 in The hair on the tail is mostly black, but is white at the tip, and sometimes also on the upper surface The claws on the fore-feet are longer, and more curved, than those on the hind feet3

As with other related species, western spotted skunks possess a pair of large musk glands that open just inside the anus, and which can spray their contents through muscular action The musk is similar to that of striped skunks, but contains 2-phenylethanethiol as an additional component, and lacks some of the compounds produced by the other species These differences are said to give western spotted skunk musk a more pungent odor, but not to spread as widely as that of striped skunks3

Distribution and habitatedit

Skeleton of Spilogale gracilis

The western spotted skunk is found throughout the western United States, northern Mexico, and southwestern British Columbia Their habitat is mixed woodlands, open areas, and farmlands

Behavior and biologyedit

Western spotted skunks are nocturnal omnivores, feeding on insects, small vertebrates, such as mice and lizards, and berries Common insects eaten include beetles and caterpillars4 Golden eagles are among their few predators5 They spend the day in dens, and are usually solitary, although sometimes two or three females will share a single burrow3

When threatened, western spotted skunks display threat behavior, stamping their fore-feet before raising their hind parts in the air and showing their conspicuous warning coloration While they can spray by standing on their forelegs and raising their hindlegs and tail in the air, they more commonly do so with all four feet on the ground, bending their body around so that both their head and their tail face the attacker36

Western spotted skunks typically breed in September, although both sexes remain fertile for several months thereafter if they fail to breed early7 After fertilisation, the embryo develops to the blastocyst stage, but then becomes dormant for several months before implanting in the uterine wall around April Including this period of delayed implantation, gestation lasts 230 to 250 days,8 with the litter of two to five young being born in May7 At birth, the young are blind and almost hairless, weighing around 11 g 039 oz9 Western spotted skunks have lived for almost ten years in captivity10

Taxonomy and etymologyedit

The western spotted skunk was first described by Clinton Hart Merriam in 1890;11 its specific name, gracilis, is derived from the Latin for "slender"3 Although it was thought for years to be conspecific with the eastern spotted skunk S putorius, the presence of delayed implantation in the western spotted skunk clearly sets it apart12


Seven subspecies are generally recognized:1

  • S g amphialus Dickey, 1929 - Channel Islands spotted skunk Channel Islands of California
  • S g gracilis Merriam, 1890 - from south-eastern Washington to the extreme west of Oklahoma
  • S g latifrons Merriam, 1890 - southwestern British Columbia to western Oregon
  • S g leucoparia Merriam, 1890 - southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and northern Mexico
  • S g lucasana Merriam, 1890 - southern Baja California
  • S g martirensis Elliot, 1903 - northern and central Baja California
  • S g phenax Merriam, 1890 - California


  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, WC 2005 "Order Carnivora" In Wilson, DE; Reeder, DM Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference 3rd ed Johns Hopkins University Press p 623 ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0 OCLC 62265494 
  2. ^ Cuarón, AD; Reid, F & Helgen, K 2008 "Spilogale gracilis" IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2008 International Union for Conservation of Nature Retrieved 27 January 2009 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Verts, BJ; Carraway, LN & Kinlaw, A 2001 "Spilogale gracilis" Mammalian Species: Number 674: pp 1–10 doi:101644/1545-14102001674<0001:SG>20CO;2 
  4. ^ Baker, RH & Baker, MW 1975 "Montane habitat used by the spotted skunk Spilogale putorius in Mexico" Journal of Mammalogy 56 3: 671–673 doi:102307/1379480 
  5. ^ von Bloeker, JC 1937 "Mammal remains from detritus of raptorial birds in California" Journal of Mammalogy 18 3: 360–361 doi:102307/1374214 
  6. ^ Crooks, KR & Van Vuren, D 1995 "Resource utilization by two insular endemic mammalian carnivores, the island fox and island spotted skunk" Oecologia 104 3: 301–307 doi:101007/BF00328365 
  7. ^ a b Mead, RA 1968 "Reproduction in western forms of the spotted skunk genus Spilogale" Journal of Mammalogy 49 3: 373–390 doi:102307/1378196 
  8. ^ Foreman, KR & Mead, RA 1973 "Duration of post-implantation in a western subspecies of the spotted skunk Spilogale putorius" Journal of Mammalogy 54 2: 521–523 doi:102307/1379146 
  9. ^ Constantine, DG 1968 "Gestation period in the spotted skunk" Journal of Mammalogy 42 3: 421–422 doi:102307/1377064 
  10. ^ Egoscue, HJ; Bittmein, JG & Petrovich, JA 1970 "Some fecundity and longevity records for captive small mammals" Journal of Mammalogy 51 3: 622–623 doi:102307/1378407 
  11. ^ ITIS Report "ITIS Standard Report: Spilogale gracilis" Retrieved December 8, 2007 
  12. ^ Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History "North American Mammals: Spilogale gracilis" Retrieved December 8, 2007 

External linksedit

  • Media related to Spilogale gracilis at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Spilogale at Wikispecies

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