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Posts Tagged ‘spotted skunk’

When I was a little boy, my grandmother once told me that one of her childhood dogs killed a civet cat.  I was old enough to know that civets lived in Africa and Asia, so when I got the chance, I asked my dad if grandma had ever been to Africa.  He said “No.” And the whole discussion ended.

I always wondered what grandma was talking about.

When I first started this blog, I was a little confused about the existence of spotted skunks in West Virginia. I asked if anyone had seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia, and of course, I got no response.

But it turns out there are some. It turns out that they are found only in the High Alleghenies, where the snow falls hard every winter.

This perplexed me.  I had always thought of Eastern spotted skunks as being a more or less “Southern” species, and although I often saw range maps of the species that included almost the entire state, I had never knew anyone who had seen one.

But maybe I did.

It turns out that one of the vernacular names for the spotted skunk is “civet cat.”

And that’s when the little anecdote my grandmother told me made a bit more sense. Her childhood dog had killed a “civet cat,” but it had most likely killed a spotted skunk.

As for that broad range map I linked to earlier, I think the reason the range appears to be so truncated now is that the spotted skunk was reviled in much of its range as a vector of rabies. Another common vernacular name for spotted skunk is “phoby cat”– “phoby” is short for “hyrdophobia” (often “hydrophoby” in some dialects)– it is very likely that there was massive persecution of spotted skunks in the lower elevations of the state.

It was just too hard to settle and farm in the higher mountains, and those mountains provided some sort of refuge for what is really a more subtropical species than one would typically find in such snowy country.

My grandmother’s childhood dog likely killed one of the few spotted skunks left in the lower elevations of West Virginia.

But I liked to pretend that she had gone to Africa.

Boyhood flights of fancy are tough to beat.

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This is a pet spotted skunk:

Source.

“Stinking spotted weasel.”

But it’s not a weasel!

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This is for my readers in West Virginia only (if I have any).

Have you ever seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia?

Eastern spotted skunks. Supposedly native to West Virginia.

I’ve lived in the northern and central parts of the state, and I’ve never seen one.

Supposedly, West Virginia is within their native range.

But according to our state DNR mammal checklist, the Eastern spotted skunk is “uncommon.”

Understatement of the week.

I’ve never seen one here. In fact, I’ve never seen one period, so if I’m posting photos of the wrong species of spotted skunk on this blog, my apologies!

I’ve never heard anyone ever talk about them.

Except that I vaguely remember my grandmother talking about a dog killing a “civet cat,” which is a vernacular term for a spotted skunk.

But that was a story I remember from my childhood, and it may have been related to me seeing an African civet of some sort on television.

***

Eastern spotted skunks have the best scientific name ever:

Spilogale putorius

“Stinking spotted weasel.”

Ah, but they aren’t weasels.

 

 

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Camera trap codger got this one right.

It is a skunk.

More specifically, it is a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). It could have been a hooded skunk, which is a close relative of the striped skunk that is found in the Southwest.

The reason why I queried Shadygrove about the civet is that spotted skunks (and there are three species in the genus Spilogale) are sometimes called “civet cats.”

Skunks aren’t related to civets. Civets are feliform Carnivores that are most closely related to hyenas. The Feliformia include cats, civets, hyenas, mongooses, and the other things that were considered mongooses or civets but have since been put in their own families.

Skunks are Caniformia. These Carnivores include Mustelids (weasels, otters, ferrets, mink, martens, badgers, and the wolverine), bears, raccoons, dogs, seals, sea lions, and the walrus. It also includes the red panda, which is now in its own family called Ailuridae.

Mustelids, Procyonids (raccoons and their relations), and skunks for a superfamily within the suborder Caniformia called Musteloidea. This superfamily may also include the red panda, but it is not exactly clear where that animal belongs.

Skunks were originally classified with the Mustelid family. After all, both Mustelids and skunks produce a secretion from their anal glands that is absolutely noxious. However, skunks have much more developed glands, which they can aim at a potential enemy.

Thanks to an examination of the DNA of these species, we now recognize that skunks are in their own family called Mephitidae.

***

I’ve been looking into the origin of the term “polecat” for the striped skunk.

It turns out that there are two species of “polecat”  native to Africa. They are not actually polecats, but they are in the Mustelid family.

One of these is called the zorilla.

This is a zorilla:

It looks a lot like a spotted skunk.

These animals are not closely related.

But because they look similar, it doesn’t take a genius to see what happened with their nomenclature.

Darwin referred to the three species of hog-nosed skunks as “zorrillos.”

It was assumed that these animals were related to the African striped “polecats,” and the term polecat became synonymous with the American skunks.

When I first learned what a real polecat was, I was shocked that anyone would call a skunk a polecat. A polecat is a wild European ferret. It’s not like a skunk at all.

I didn’t know about the striped polecats of Africa.

***

While these striped polecats are not an Old World species of skunk, there are Old World members of Mephitidae .

They are not called skunks.

They are called “stink badgers” (Genus Mydaus).  They both look like skunks with docked tails.

One species lives on Palawan and Busuanga in the Philippines. It is called the Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei).

The other is found on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is called the Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis).

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Spotted Skunk handstand

Source.

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Skunks

For those of you who don’t live in North America, here’s a very good video on skunks. This show was on PBS not long ago, and the striped skunks were awesome.

Source.

I can’t describe what skunk musk smells like. I really can’t.

It’s really not the smell that is bad.

It’s how it irritates your eyes and mucous membranes.

I say this as someone who has been skunked.

I had a dog that reveled in killing skunks, and she attacked one that was maybe 10 feet away from me one evening. As she shook it, the skunk wound up spraying me as “collateral damage.”

In some states, people can keep these animals as pets, but most states ban it because skunks have their own strain of rabies.

Incidentally, skunks are not weasels (Mustelids). They used to be classified with the weasels, ferrets, mink, otters, badgers, martens, and wolverines (gluttons). But now skunks and stink badegrs are in their own family called Mephitidae. Both skunks and Mustelids are members of the superfamiy Musteloidea, which includes the raccoon family (Procyonidae) and the red panda (Ailuridae). This suborder Caniformia within the order Carnivora. This suborder also includes dogs, bears, seals, sea lions and fur seals, and the walrus.

Finally, we supposedly have Eastern spotted skunks in West Virginia, but I have never seen one here. Those are the skunks that do handstands.

Source.

Read Full Post »

Skunks

For those of you who don’t live in North America, here’s a very good video on skunks. This show was on PBS not long ago, and the striped skunks were awesome.

Source.

I can’t describe what skunk musk smells like. I really can’t.

It’s really not the smell that is bad.

It’s how it irritates your eyes and mucous membranes.

I say this as someone who has been skunked.

I had a dog that reveled in killing skunks, and she attacked one that was maybe 10 feet away from me one evening. As she shook it, the skunk wound up spraying me as “collateral damage.”

In some states, people can keep these animals as pets, but most states ban it because skunks have their own strain of rabies.

Incidentally, skunks are not weasels (Mustelids). They used to be classified with the weasels, ferrets, mink, otters, badgers, martens, and wolverines (gluttons). But now skunks and stink badegrs are in their own family called Mephitidae. Both skunks and Mustelids are members of the superfamiy Musteloidea, which includes the raccoon family (Procyonidae) and the red panda (Ailuridae). This suborder Caniformia within the order Carnivora. This suborder also includes dogs, bears, seals, sea lions and fur seals, and the walrus.

Finally, we supposedly have Eastern spotted skunks in West Virginia, but I have never seen one here. Those are the skunks that do handstands.

Source.

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