The western spotted skunk is reminiscent of the eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) in appearance but it has more white in its fur. In the 1960s, an American researcher, Rodney A. Mead, discovered that there were differences in fetal development between them, which could indicate that they were two different species. In 1993, a DNA analysis was performed by a research team led by the American biologist Jerry W. Dragoo, who confirmed this.
The western spotted skunk’s fur is mainly black and white. There are white spots on the face and white streaks and spots on the back. The abdomen is mainly white. At the end of the tail tip is a white tuft. The tail of a western spotted skunk is about 13 cm long. The claws are much longer on the front paws than on the hind paws.
A western spotted skunk male is on average 42 cm long compared to the slightly smaller female who is 36 cm. The female also weighs less with her average weight of 370 grams. A male can weigh 570 grams.
The western spotted skunk lives in southwestern Canada, in most parts of the western United States and down to central Mexico. It occurs mainly in rocky areas with shrubs and river ravines. It is also found in less bushy young forests.
The males are running all winter without any longer sleep.
The western spotted skunk has moved closer to humans and can live in nooks and crannies. The western spotted skunk is a nocturnal animal that lives alone. During the winter, the females can seek each other out and form nests together, sometimes up to 20 skunks in the same nest. There they can sleep together for several days but they have no winter hibernation.
A western spotted skunk mostly eats smaller rodents, rabbits, bird eggs, insects and scorpions. It also eats fruits, berries and roots.
If a western spotted skunk feels threatened, it turns its back on the attacker and sprays a foul-smelling liquid. It aims at the attacker’s face.
The foul-smelling liquid is excreted from glands located near the anal opening. The odour can be described as a mixture of garlic, carbon disulfide and burning rubber. The liquid can be sprayed up to six meters away. The skunk only uses this defence mechanism when it feels really threatened as it takes several days for the skunk to replenish the reserve.
The liquid does not damage a person’s skin, but the smell can cause nausea and headaches. If the liquid ends up in the eye, you can lose sight temporarily for a few minutes.
Skunk defence has made even the largest predators such as bears and cougars afraid of the skunk. This has meant that the skunk is not particularly easily frightened by other creatures. The skunk does not have many natural enemies, it is only larger birds of prey that sometimes try to catch a skunk.
The western spotted skunk female is in heat in September. She then chooses a partner to mate with. The skunk has a delayed fetal development; during cell division, the pregnancy stops and the egg rests for 180-200 days. The actual pregnancy lasts between 210-230 days. The kits are born later in the spring and the litter usually consists of 2-5 new skunks.