Spilogale putoriuseastern spotted skunk

Geographic Range

Eastern Spotted Skunks (Spilogale putorius) are found throughout much of the eastern United States. They are found as far north as Minnesota and south through Central America to El Salvador. They occur as far west as eastern Wyoming and Colorado. They occur throughout the midwestern states, in the Appalachian mountains as far north as Pennsylvania, throughout Florida, and to eastern Texas. (Burt and Stirton, 1961; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)


Spilogale putorius occupies mostly wooded areas and tall-grass prairies and many times prefers rocky habitats. It lives in holes either self-dug or abandoned burrows from other animals. Except during mating season, these skunks prefer to live with several skunks in one burrow.(Davis and Schmidley 1994, Grzmek 1972)

Physical Description

These skunks have large bodies that are low to the ground with a small tapered head. The nose is short and rounded. The head and body length is typically 115-345 mm and the tail length 70-220 mm. Males are slightly larger than females. Females have three pairs of teats for feeding young. The hair is longest on the tail and shortest on the head. As in all skunk species S. putorius has a well-developed pair of anal glands used in self-defense. They have 34 teeth. There is a small white spot on the forehead and one in front of each ear. There are six distinct white stripes on the anterior part of the body. The posterior part of the body has two interrupted white bands, and one spot on each side of the rump and two more at the base of the tail. There are five toes on each foot. The front claws are sharp and recurved, and are more than twice as long as the hind claws (Grzmek 1972, Nowk 1964, Davis and Schmidley 1994).

  • Range mass
    200 to 1000 g
    7.05 to 35.24 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.674 W


Mating occurs in March and April, although in southern states some females may mate in July and August if they have not mated or lost their first litter. In some cases there have been females with two litters in one year. Males tend to wander and become more active during the mating season, and are know for a condition called "mating madness" in which they will spray any large animals that they encounter. In males, testes enlarge and testosterone levels increase throughout mating season, peaking in April, but maintaining these characteristics thoughout July if females are capable of a second litter. Courtship behaviors include a short chase ending with the male grabbing the female by the nape of her neck and with both sinking to their sides. Copulation usually lasts one minute and can be repeated 10-20 times. The gestation period is approximately 50-65 days with the litter size usually about 5-6. The young are born blind and helpless and their bodies are covered with a fine hair that already has distinct black and white markings. Their eyes open at 30-32 days and they begin to walk and play when 36 days old. Sexual maturity is reached at 11 months in both sexes. (Davis and Schmidley 1994, Grzmek 1972, Kaplan 1994)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    31 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    152 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    152 days



Eastern Spotted Skunks are mostly nocturnal. Spotted skunks are much more alert and active than most skunks. When threatened, a foul-smelling oily secretion from the skunk's anal glands can be projected up to 4 m and is usually directed at the face of the threatening animal. The spotted skunk is noted for its characteristic "handstand" stance that it takes when threatened. Before spraying its opponent, this skunk raises up on its front legs and turns its head to watch as it sprays. It is also the only member of the skunk family that can climb. (Davis and Schmidley 1994, Grzmek 1972)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

These skunks are omnivorous. Their natural food sources depend on the seasons: In winter, they eat cottontails and corn; in spring, native field mice and insects; in summer, insects with small amounts of fruits, birds, and birds' eggs, and in fall, predominately insects. They are excellent rodent catchers. -S.putorius- has also been known to knock down beehives for the honeycomb, despite the many bee stings the animal receives. (Davis and Schmidley 1994, Grzmek 1972)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Eastern Spotted Skunks are deliberately killed by humans for their pelts.

Conservation Status

Other Comments

These skunks are often accidently killed because they are slow moving and are hit by motorists when they attempt to cross roadways. (Davis and Schmidley 1994)


Stefanie Pennington (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Burt, W., R. Stirton. 1961. The Mammals of El Salvador. Miscellaneous Publications of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, 117: 1-10.

Davis, W., D. Schmidly. 1994. The Mammals of Texas. Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Press.

Grzmek, B. 1972. Animal Life Encyclopedia: Vol. 12. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Kaplan, J., R. Mead. 1994. Seasonal Changes in Testicular Function and Seminal Characteristics of the Male Eastern Spotted Skunk. Journal of Mammology, vol 4: 1013-1019.

Nowk, R. 1964. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.