Up until the 1940’s, Spotted Skunks were an important furbearer species in the Great Plains states and were a fairly common sight, but then something happened. People started noticing that there were less and less sightings of the skunks and by the 1980’s they became a rare sight. Now, many states list the Eastern Spotted Skunk as endangered or as a species of concern. The seemingly sudden decline doesn’t appear to be linked to overharvesting rates though, instead it seems to be due to development of their preferred habitats.
Spotted Skunk are very particular when it comes to the places that they call home. They prefer habitat with lots of brush, understory cover, a closed canopy and rocky outcrops; this allows them to hide from predators like hawks and Great Horned Owls, that can’t penetrate the thick brush. Knowing this, its no surprise that populations have decreased from their historic numbers, because of habitat loss and development.
There are 4 distinct subspecies of spotted skunk within North America: the Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis), the Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius), Southern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale angustifrons) and the Pygmy Spotted Skunk (Spilogale pygmaea). Our species of concern, the Eastern Spotted Skunk, is very rarely sighted.
The populations of Eastern Spotted Skunks that remain in South Carolina are mainly clustered in the upstate, where there is less development and more of the dense understory that they prefer. Recently, an extremely bright group of students have been conducting a population survey, placing camera traps in public lands near sightings from the past few decades. So far, 5 spotted skunks have been caught on camera, the first documented sightings in the state in over 16 years.
For more information on historic ranges and preferred habitat of the Eastern Spotted Skunk, you can read Lesmeister et al.’s paper “Eastern Spotted Skunk Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality in the Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas”, found in The American Midland Naturalist Journal, issue 164.