Sunday, April 20, 2014

Skunks of the beach

Well not on the beach literally, but over the past month I have received 2 reports of eastern spotted skunk road kills in the Melbourne Beach, Florida area.  Far from the mountain ridges we are finding spotted skunks in Appalachia, where they appear to be habitat specialists, these skunks are in suburban Florida.  

More interestingly, at least one sighting was near an occupied gopher tortoise burrow.  Perhaps a den for our little spotted friends?   The association between spotted skunks and gopher tortoises has been seen at Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County, Florida, where researchers believe spotted skunks are using the burrows for shelter during the warm Florida days.  These burrows also likely serve as feeding sites for spotted skunks by offering a one-stop-shop of insects, small mammals, reptiles and perhaps even eggs.  

From Arkansas, to Florida, and even up here at the northern extent of their range in Virginia, a recurrent theme is emerging in eastern spotted skunk ecology - spotted skunks need cover.  These primarily nocturnal animals need ready access to dens and dense understory, something that in south Florida appear to be provided by coastal scrub and gopher tortoise burrows.

Further reading:

Crooks, K. R. (1994). Den-site selection in the island spotted skunk of Santa Cruz Island, California. The Southwestern Naturalist, 354-357.

Frank, P. A., & Lips, K. R. (1989). Gopher tortoise burrow use by long-tailed weasels and spotted skunks. Florida Field Naturalist17, 20-22.

Manaro, A. J. (1961). Observations on the behavior of the spotted skunk in Florida. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Science24, 59-63.