Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorious) or Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Skunks are small mammals notorious for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, unpleasant odor. (Thankfully, there won’t be any onboard during an Everglades airboat tour). Because Skunks are common throughout Florida, there is the possibility of seeing one during an Everglades boat tour. However, it would be a pretty rare sighting, to be honest, since they only come out at night and stay burrowed during the day. They are closely related to the mink and weasel but not as sleek and agile as their relatives. There are 11 species, the most common being the striped skunk. Skunks are found all throughout Florida, except for in the Florida Keys.
The most notable skunk populations in Florida are that of the striped skunk. However, there are also smaller populations of Eastern spotted skunks. Skunk sightings are quite rare since they normally only come out at night and keep burrowed during the day.
Skunk Species Diversity
Eastern spotted and striped skunks are the two species of skunk native to Florida. Although they are both skunks, their appearance is notably different, especially their black and white pattern.
The striped skunk typically inhabits areas with dense vegetation and open areas, with a preference for areas with large dead trees.
The striped skunk is normally larger than the eastern spotted skunk. This skunk is more commonly seen than the Eastern spotted skunk.
Eastern Spotted Skunks:
The Eastern spotted skunk is much rarer. They enjoy areas with dense scrub cover.
There are actually two subspecies of the Eastern spotted skunk, but they look practically the same. Unlike the striped skunk, the Eastern spotted skunk has a mottled black and white “marbled” appearance.
Skunk Habitats in Florida
They are native to North America and can be found in Northern Mexico and as far north as Central Canada. They easily adapt to many different habitats, including woods, grasslands, brush, open prairies, and developed areas. The perfect conditions to be seen during an Everglades tour. Skunks can be found in rural and urban areas if there is ample water supply and rarely venture further than two miles from their homes.
Anatomy and Features of Skunks
They vary in size, ranging from 15.6 to 37 inches in length and weighing between 1 and 18 pounds. They have long bodies with short, muscular legs and long front claws for digging. These muscular front feet enable them to burrow to build homes and stay protected.
Skunks have scent glands located inside the rectum at the base of the tail. The composition of the oily musk from these glands is two compounds, both rich in sulfur- the same thing that makes rotten eggs so foul smelling.
Although most skunks’ fur colors are black and white and made of fine hair, some skunks are brown, grey, or even cream-colored. All skunks are striped, but the stripes may vary from a single thick stripe to two thinner stripes or even a series of spots and broken stripes.
As the names imply, the striped skunk has two long white stripes going down its body, while the Eastern spotted skunk has more varied white spots throughout its coat. This gives it a more marbled appearance.
If you ever see an Eastern spotted skunk, you might be tempted to get closer to try to see the difference. Ensure you keep your distance; they are just as likely to spray as the more common striped skunk.
Skunks are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals and change their diets with the seasons. Animals that comprise a skunk’s diet include insects, larvae, earthworms, grubs, small rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles, eggs, and honeybees. The rest of their diet consists of berries, roots, leaves, grasses, fungi, and nuts. You and your friends might spot one having a meal during a group airboat tour or private airboat tour.
Skunks are notorious for their scent glands, which they can use as a defensive weapon. The glands produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals with a highly offensive smell. The fluid’s odor is strong enough to fend away bears and other potential predators and can be extremely difficult to remove from clothing or skin. Their spray can be highly accurate at distances up to 10 feet and cause irritation and even temporary blindness.
Skunks and Their Interactions with Other Wildlife
Skunks are particularly non-aggressive animals and only use their powerful defense mechanisms when threatened and cannot escape. Skunks and gopher tortoises have a great relationship. Spotted skunks, in particular, regularly use gopher tortoise burrows as habitats.
Skunks and the Florida Wildlife Conservation
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission actively works to preserve skunk populations. As a part of the conservation effort, they encourage citizens to report skunk sightings to them to help them better understand their movements and patterns.
Threats to Skunks in Florida
When skunks encounter predators they cannot see, skunks spray their pungent, oily musk in an attempt to get away. Skunks will usually provide a warning before spraying their scent by stamping their forefeet rapidly and arching their tails over their backs.
One of their largest natural predators is the great horned owl, which, conveniently, does not have a strong sense of smell. They can snatch them up from the air using their talons, avoiding being sprayed altogether.
Skunks are threatened by loss of habitat as humans continue to destroy their natural environments. As humans continue to develop into their natural habitats, skunks lose their homes and thus decline in population numbers.
SKUNK FUN FACTS
- Some also have stripes on their legs; a fun game during Miami airboat tours is trying to spot them.
- They are one of the primary predators of the honeybee. Using their thick fur to protect them from stings, the skunk scratches the outside of the beehive, and then they eat the guard bee that comes out. Mother skunks teach their young this behavior.
- They are solitary animals when not mating; you’re unlikely to see a pair of them together.
- Skunks are not hibernators in the winter, but they do den in a dormant state for extended periods of time.
- When born, skunk babies (kits) are blind and deaf for about three weeks.
- Though a well-known remedy, tons of tomato juice is needed to bathe away the smell of a skunk’s spray. The Humane Society recommends using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid.
- Keeping them as domesticated pets is illegal in most US states.