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Scientific Name: Spilogale putorius
Abundance: Found in the mountains and western Piedmont (green)
Spotted Skunk (John MacGregor)
Spotted Skunk (Geoffrey Kuchera)
The Eastern Spotted Skunk, often nicknamed a civet or polecat, is one of two native skunk species found in North Carolina. The other is the striped skunk. It is a small, relatively slender skunk that historically ranged from the Continental Divide through much of central and southeastern United States, as well as northeastern Mexico. There are three sub-species of Eastern Spotted Skunk, with the Appalachian sub-species (Spilogale putorius interrupta) occupying the Appalachian Mountains of the southeast United States. In North Carolina, spotted skunks are found only in the mid-to upper elevations of the mountains, though their historic range also included the western Piedmont. Unlike the more uniform distribution of striped skunks, spotted skunks are very localized in their distribution.
Spotted skunks are jet black with broken white stripes and white spots. They have a distinctive triangular white spot on the head between their eyes and a variable amount of white fur on the end of the tail. With respect to body shape, they are similar to striped skunks although much smaller. Adult spotted skunks are about the size of a large tree squirrel and weigh 1 to 4 lbs. Males are usually about 7 percent larger than females. The front paws are much longer than those on the hind feet and they can be used for climbing, digging, or restraining prey.
Spotted skunks prefer rocky areas or cover, as that helps them hide from potential aerial and terrestrial predators, and can provide den sites. In the Appalachian Mountains, they are found in young, dense forest stands (< 50 years old) and mature forest stands with extensive shrub cover. Dead and downed trees and abundant course woody debris provide important microhabitats. In some southeastern states, spotted skunks have been associated with old fields and hedgerow habitats. Unlike striped skunks, spotted skunks are tree climbers, and may den or rest above ground. Dens are used for resting, protection from inclement weather and predation, and raising of young. Spotted skunks typically locate dens within existing protective cover including shrubs, debris piles, burrows, hollow logs/stumps, tree cavities, and under and between rocks. Spotted skunks are active all winter.
As with striped skunks, spotted skunks have the ability to expel a noxious deterrent spray from specialized glands around the anus when threatened. Another defensive behavior they exhibit is a defensive posture in which they do a hand-stand on their two front legs, with their tail extended vertically into the air and their hind legs spread apart. While in this handstand position, they can move towards the threat, balancing themselves on their forelegs and directing their anal glands toward the danger. They will also stomp the ground with their front paws to deter potential predators. These defensive behaviors are made even more dramatic, as their striking fur pattern is further emphasized.
For more information, read the Eastern Spotted Skunk species profile.
Spotted skunks are classified as a furbearer and may be taken during regulated trapping seasons.
The Eastern Spotted Skunk rarely causes conflicts with people, as they tend to avoid people and human development. If you think you are having an issue with a skunk, it is most likely North Carolina’s other skunk species, the Striped Skunk.
You can find information below on preventing and resolving conflicts with wildlife:
The 2005 North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan (NCWAP) categorized the Eastern Spotted Skunk as a priority mammal species and the 2015 NCWAP listed the spotted skunk as one of two mammals in Order Carnivora that was a research priority, due to the large knowledge gaps that exist for the species. Between 2001 and 2014, 25 observations had been verified in 12 counties in the western portion of the state. Starting in winter 2015, an annual winter camera trap study on Eastern Spotted Skunks was initiated by the Commission. The Commission also initiated a cooperative research project with Clemson University that will increase our understanding of the basic life history traits (e.g., mortality factors, survivorship rates, habitat use, movements, reproduction) of the Eastern Spotted Skunk in order to determine its population status (i.e., increasing, decreasing, stable). This will inform the Commission on actions that can be taken to better survey, monitor and manage this species. The Commission also encourages the public to report if they believe they have seen a spotted skunk at: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/eastern-spotted-skunk.
Every year, the NCWRC requests samples, usually either part of the jaw or whole carcasses, from certain furbearers to aid in research and monitoring of our valuable furbearer species. Projects such as these are important, as they help us monitor populations and improve our knowledge of N.C. furbearers. We feel this information will help us maintain trapping and hunting for future generations.
Furbearer Cooperator Flier (PDF 533 KB)
Spotted skunks are rarely seen in many states, bringing up the question of whether the species is reclusive or rare. To help the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission address this fundamentally important question to the species conservation, as well as help us focus our research and monitoring efforts, we need your help.
It is easy to mistake a striped skunk for a spotted skunk, especially since striped skunks don’t always have the traditional two stripes down their backs.
Know the difference between a striped skunk and spotted skunk (PDF).
Please report a sighting of an Eastern Spotted Skunk on the iNaturalist Eastern Spotted Skunk project page.
Eastern Spotted Skunk Species Profile
Report a sighting of an Eastern Spotted Skunk
Eastern Spotted Skunk Cooperative Study Group
Eastern Spotted Skunk Blog
Eastern Spotted Skunk Conservation Plan