North Georgia Wildlife Part 5 (Skunks)
North Georgia Wildlife Part 5 (Skunks)
There are two species of skunks that live in the North Georgia mountains; the striped skunk and the Eastern spotted skunk.
Sometimes referred to as polecats, striped skunks are about the size of a domestic house cat measuring 21-28 inches in length and weighing about 3-11 pounds. Stripped skunks are known for their black fur and characteristic white stripes on their head and down their back. There is considerable variation in striping patterns as skunks can have a broad stripe, narrow stripe, pair of stripes, or a short stripe. Coloration can vary as well as some striped skunks will have very little white while other are almost completely white.
Peak breeding activity for striped skunks occurs during February and March and delayed implantation occurs following breeding. This results in a synchrony of births during May and June after a 64 day gestation period. Litter sizes range from 2-10 skunks with 6 being the average size.
Striped skunks are the most common skunks both in Georgia and throughout the United States. They are found in a wide variety of habitats including both forests and urban areas. Areas dominated by brush that are adjacent to grassy and forested areas are preferred habitat for this skunk. Although it may occasionally dig its own den the striped skunk will seek out shelter in crevices, abandoned burrows of other animals, hollow logs, or even underneath buildings or homes. During the winter they may den up in groups of several females with a single male.
Striped skunks eat a large amount of insects. Their diet includes a wide variety of beetles and their larvae, grasshoppers, crickets, earthworms, butterfly and moth larvae, spiders, snails, ants, bees, wasps, and crayfish. When insects are not available, their diet may shift to mice, vegetation, or ground nesting bird eggs.
Eastern Spotted Skunk
Spotted skunks are much smaller than striped skunks measuring between 17-23 inches in length and weighing between 1-3 pounds. The black and white color is consistent with other skunks however spotted skunks typically have horizontal white stripes on their neck and shoulders, irregular vertical and elongated spots on their sides, and white spots on the top of their head and between their eyes. In terms of color patterns like the stripped skunk no two skunks seem to be the same.
Peak breeding activity for spotted skunks also occurs during February and March and offspring are born in May 50-65 days after implantation. Litters sizes range between 1-6 skunks with 4 being the average size.
Spotted skunks are found in the more northern and eastern parts of Georgia as well as much of the Eastern United States. It is less common than the striped skunk and has a considerably lower population. Habitats they frequent include farmlands and other early successional areas with an abundance of grassy and forested areas.
The diet of spotted skunks is more carnivorous than their striped cousins feeding mainly on small animals. They also eat grubs and other insects, as well as corn, grapes, mulberries, and eggs.
Both skunks perhaps are most well known for their defense strategy. When confronted, stripped skunks will face the threat, arch and elevate their tail, erect the tail hairs, chatter their teeth, and stomp the ground with their front feet. This warning usually convinces most to retreat however if the threat remains the skunk will twist around raise its tail straight up and squeeze its anal glands spraying a foul secretion up to 15 feet away that may be detected up to a mile away. Spotted skunks will stand on their front feet and discharge their scent directly over their head. Contrary to popular myth skunks can still spray even when being held off the ground by its tail.
Most animals attempt to blend in to their environment for protection. However the unique and very noticeable contrasting coloration of skunks serves as sufficient warning to most predators. Great-horned owls however with their poorly developed sense of smell and nocturnal activities are a significant predator of skunks.
Skunks are a carrier of rabies in the United States. This as well as their desire to use urbanized areas makes them a serious potential source of human exposure to rabies. Other diseases and parasites carried by skunks include leptospirosis and an intestinal roundworm. These diseases in addition to distemper, canine hepatitis, fleas, ticks, lice, and mites can cause problems for pets as well.
Skunks are also considered nuisances especially when they choose to den underneath homes, dig cone shaped holes in yards looking for grubs, or simply the smell of their odor of being in the area. Making the area unattractive to skunks is one of the best ways to resolve nuisance issues. Steps to preventing nuisance skunk situations include: installing barriers to prevent skunks from getting underneath your home, not leaving pet food outside, removal of brush piles, and spraying your yard for grubs.
Complete Home Services can help you remove brush and other areas that skunks might nest as well as install barriers to help prevent skunks from making a home under your house. Call today to schedule a free quote.
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