Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spotted skunk hair snares

Guest post by Chuck Waggy

I have been experimenting with baited hair snares to collect hair samples from eastern spotted skunks for DNA testing.  These snares were designed and constructed by Greg Turner, PGC.  They consist of heavy schedule PVC pipe and rifle cleaning brushes.  Since the goal of this exercise was to determine if spotted skunks would enter the snare and if the collection brushes would obtain hair samples I used one of my telemetered skunks, which has an offspring still with her, as the “guinea pig”.  The location of these two skunks was always known and was very near an access road, which simplified logistics for setting up and checking the equipment.  Each hair snare was covered by two trail cameras, one video and one still.  Another goal of this exercise was to determine if the snares could survive a black bear mauling.

Hair snares and cameras were placed at three different sites at different times.  The telemetered skunk was known to be at each site when the equipment was placed.  Cameras indicated spotted skunks visited the snares and hair samples were obtained on the brushes at all sites.  I have not yet had the opportunity to analyze the hair but a preliminary check indicates it is probably spotted skunk hair and cams didn’t indicate any other animals (except mice and a bear) visiting the snares. 

One of the snares easily survived some very rough treatment by a black bear (this was verified on video).  If anyone is interested in using a snare of this type they can contact Greg for the plans.  I made a few modifications to Greg’s snares but not sure if they were significant or needed.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Spotted Skunks of Alabama

Ty preparing to handle an eastern spotted skunk in TNF
Guest post by Ty Sprayberry

The University of West Georgia Wildlife Conservation Lab is conducting an intensive study of eastern spotted skunks in the Shoal Creek Ranger District of Talladega National Forest. Talladega National Forest (TNF) is located at the confluence of the Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, and Piedmont provinces within the southern Appalachian Mountains of Alabama. Ty Sprayberry, a master’s student under the advisorship of Dr. Andrew Edelman, has been radio-collaring and monitoring den use of spotted skunks in TNF since January 2015. He has captured 8 skunks and identified over 70 unique den sites across the study area. In August 2015, a new master’s student, William Cornelison, joined the research effort. His thesis will examine habitat use of spotted skunks by radio-tracking individuals across seasons. Their research is funded by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, US Forest Service, and the UWG Biology Department. Spotted skunks are listed as a protected species in Alabama, but little is known regarding their natural history and distribution in the state. Prior to documenting this species in TNF, only 10 confirmed sightings of spotted skunks had been reported in Alabama since 2000. Our research will provide basic ecological data on the eastern spotted skunk that will improve management of this small furbearer within the region. 

An eastern spotted skunk den in an old stump.
An eastern spotted skunk den in an uprooted tree.

To capture spotted skunks for radio-collaring, we establish camera trap stations baited with sardines and fatty acid scent tablets and monitored by a remote game camera. We also place several baited live traps at the site, but wire the doors open to prevent an animal from being captured. Once a spotted skunk is documented at a camera trap we set the live traps in the evening and check for captures the following morning. When a skunk is captured we approach the trap wearing Tyvek suits and face shields while holding up a tarp to avoid receiving a direct spray.  The skunk is maneuvered into a denim handling cone which allows the skunk to be handled. After a skunk is radio-collared we tracked the individual to their den during the day and triangulate their location at night.  

An eastern spotted skunk biting a radio collar while being ear tagged.

A female eastern spotted skunk dragging a snake back into her den.

Currently, we have captured 8 spotted skunks, 6 of which have been radio-collared. Of the radio-collared individuals, one has disappeared from the study area immediately after capture and another one recently lost its collar. Once a den site is identified, we measure a variety of habitat characteristics around the site as well as a nearby random site for comparison. We also place game cameras on dens to document activity patterns and collect natural history data on diet, species interactions, and reproduction. To measure habitat use, we are locating radio-collared skunks during the day and night to allow calculation of home ranges. We just recently began triangulating skunk locations at night, which involves several researchers simultaneously recording the signal direction from a radio collar.  Our current goal is to locate radio-collared skunks ≥ 5 times during the night and day each month (30 locations per season). Eventually these data will be used to construct home ranges to examine landscape-scale habitat use of eastern spotted skunks in Talladega National Forest.

Spotted skunk outside of its den performing a handstand display.
An eastern spotted skunk performing a handstand display towards a bobcat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spotted skunks can use tiny dens

More observations from Chuck Waggy in West Virginia about den site selection/creation by the female spotted skunk he has been tracking for the past several months (Angie).

"Angie is getting notorious for using very small, non-descript burrows.  These burrows are tough to find now that the leaves are falling and partially covering them.  These burrows are max. 2 in. X 3 in., some smaller.  Would be real interesting to know how she finds them, as all of them are new (at least to me since Apr.).  As I am tracking these guys I am looking for possible den sites.  There are a jillion of them out there so no wonder these guys can roam anywhere/anytime.  They can den up just about any time they want."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Do camera traps impact spotted skunk behavior?

Comments from Chuck Waggy as he uses multiple camera trap types at a spotted skunk den in West Virginia:

"This has happened several times. I have had out a Reconyx cam set on stills (Reconyx does not have video capability) and a Bushnell set in tandem for video in all cases. Note the flashes. Those flashes are the Reconyx firing and appears to set the skunk off. Don't quite understand this as when the Bushnell is taking pics separately skunks seem to be at ease. Don't know if Reconyx flash or some sound from Reconyx is setting the skunks off. Bushnells don't seem to bother them. Both are IR (not IR blackouts).

Hate to say this but I am finding that Reconyx cams are not catching the action like the Bushnells and Reconyx are set on high sensitivity, Bushnells on normal."

The end.