If you’ve seen a spotted skunk, there are some researchers in Alabama and Georgia who would like to know where and when you saw it.
You might have seen one as roadkill, or you may have seen one in a game camera image. You may know a fur trapper who inadvertently caught one.
However, if you encounter one in the woods, be very cautious—after all, it is a skunk—and, if possible, use your mobile telephone to take its picture.
Currently Alabama’s Nongame Wildlife Program is looking for help in documenting the presence of the Eastern spotted skunk.
During the early 20th century, these small skunks were commonly found throughout most of central and the Southeastern United States. Since the 1940s, the species has experienced widespread population decline.
In Alabama, little is known about the biology and the current status of the Eastern spotted skunk. Only a few recent confirmed sightings of spotted skunks are documented in the state. Researchers hope to change that.
That’s why they’re looking for help from people who spend time outdoors.
Eastern spotted skunks are a state-protected species. Researchers at the University of West Georgia recently documented the first known population of Eastern spotted skunks in Alabama's Talladega National Forest, and they are now gathering preliminary tracking data from radio-collared skunks at the Forest.
While the exact reasons spotted skunk numbers have declined is unknown, factors suspected include habitat loss, pesticide use and overharvesting. Diseases such as rabies, distemper or even an unknown parvovirus could have also contributed to the loss.
The Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is elusive and small, about the same size as a tree squirrel.
When compared to its larger cousin the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), spotted skunks are more agile and better climbers. They’re sometimes known as tree or weasel skunks.
Eastern spotted skunks are nocturnal omnivores. They eat insects, small mammals, birds, eggs, carrion, berries and fungi. When threatened, they perform a foot-stomping handstand dance that exaggerates their size and shows off their black and white warning coloration.
If this display doesn’t stop perceived attackers, the skunk will use its anal glands to spray noxious oil which can cause temporary blindness and nausea.
How do you tell the difference between the more common striped skunk and the Eastern spotted skunk?
Here is a comparison by size and defining features.
Here’s how to report a Sighting
Here's how to report sightings from roadkill, game cameras or inadvertent catch from fur trapping.
■ Upload your observations to the Eastern Spotted Skunk Project at www.inaturalist.org/projects/eastern-spotted-skunk or use the iNaturalist smartphone app, available for Android and iPhone.
■ Email photographs with GPS latitude/longitude coordinates (smartphone photos are automatically tagged with this information) to Nick Sharp at email@example.com.
For more information on the research project click here.
Photo courtesy Damon Lesmeister, USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station
Illustration courtesy Outdoor Alabama