Skunks: Striped or Spotted? But All Stinky

By Stephanie Schuttler

The word “skunk” evokes a specific image to come to mind. Did you imagine a cat-sized animal with black and white stripes and the capacity to produce an infamous odor? Depending on where you are from, you may have pictured a more or less stripe-y skunk.

There are 10 different species of skunks in the world, of which several reside near Guadalajara, Mexico, making it difficult to know which species is which. Skunks are renowned for their stinky scent produced and sprayed from their anal glands, effective in keeping predators and other curious animals from getting too close.  However, those lucky to be close enough to observe them and not get sprayed or from the safety of a camera trap, can see not all skunks look alike. This blog shows you how eMammal scientists differentiate between the hog-nosed skunk, hooded skunk, and spotted skunks that all reside around Guadalajara.

The American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) is one of the largest species in the world. Unlike other skunks they do not have a white dot or medial bar between their eyes. The fur on their body is mostly black, and their snout is long and naked, giving this skunk its name. They have a single or sometimes double white stripe from the top of their head to the base of an all-white tail, which is shorter in length when compared to the body. Behaviorally, they tend to arch their tails and have a specific posture.

hog-nosed skunk

Hog-nosed skunk in arched position.

Hooded skunks (Mephitis macroura) are a smaller species and are named for the long white hairs on the back of their neck, which forms a “hood.” There are three color variations: white-backed, black-backed, and all black.

The white-backed variety has a back and tail that is white, as well as two lateral white stripes along its sides.

White-backed variety of hooded skunk

White-backed variety of hooded skunk.

The black-backed hooded skunk has the white lateral stripes from the neck to hips, a black tail with white hairs at the tip, and sometimes a thin, white, vertical stripe between the eyes.

black-backed hooded skunk

Black-backed hooded skunk.

The all black variety does not have a white back or lateral stripes. It is a rare observed, even on camera traps. The tail for all variations is generally longer than their body. 

Although there are several species of spotted skunks, they are nearly impossible to distinguish from each other and the range boundaries are not fully defined. In Mexico, we may find the pygmy (Spilogale pygmaea), southern (Spilogale angustifrons) or western spotted skunk (S. gracilis). Our current knowledge of ranges suggests that only the southern spotted skunk should be found as far south as Guadalajara.

spotted skunk

Spotted skunks are the most weasel-like in appearance of all the skunks. They are smaller in size with short legs, more slender, and have a white triangle marking on their forehead. The white-banded pattern on a black body is very distinct and is variable among individuals. These white bands are not continuous, but broken making them look “spotted”, hence the name.

Now test out your skunk knowledge! Do you know which species of skunk these are? (Answers below).

Skunk (1)

hooded skunk

Skunk (2)

spotted skunk

Skunk (3)

hog-nosed skunk

Authors: Rebecca Sears and Stephanie Schuttler. Special thank you to Dr. Adam Ferguson for identifications.

 

Answers

  1. Hooded Skunk
  2. Spotted Skunk
  3. American Hog-nosed Skunk
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