At least four species of skunks are found in Arizona. All of the species have scent glands on either side of their anal sphincter which secrete a secretion of musk that gives them their malodorous reputation. This defensive reaction and their striking white on black color patterns are usually enough to deter all but the most determined predator. Omnivorous, mostly nocturnal foragers, skunks are highly susceptible to the rabies virus. Indeed, early Arizonans so associated rabies with skunks that some species were termed "hydrophobia cats."
The most common of the species by far is the cat-sized striped skunk that occurs throughout Arizona and constitutes the vast majority of the road-killed mammals seen on the state's highways. The striped skunk is not only Arizona's most frequently seen skunk, it is also the largest. Weights range from about 2 ½ pounds for an adult female to an occasional 10 pounds or more for an obese male. The species always displays a thin white stripe on its face, even though the striping pattern may vary between individuals and populations. The usual markings, however, are two lateral stripes that form a chevron, merging toward the back of the head. The tail, which usually shows some white, is always shorter in length than the approximately foot-long body. Although "stripees" live almost everywhere but in the most extreme deserts, they are most often found near water. These skunks are active throughout the year and do not hibernate even in northern Arizona; the males instead form communal dens with several females.
The closely related hooded skunk (distribution shown on the right) is the striped skunk's Mexican counterpart. It is generally confined to southeastern Arizona, although specimens have reportedly been taken as far north as Flagstaff and the Mogollon Rim. Somewhat leaner than the striped skunk, hooded skunks weigh from 1¾ to 2 ½ pounds and have a 12 to 16 inch long body. As for all species of skunks found in Arizona, the males are larger than the females. The white stripes on this animal are often solidly joined to form one large white streak down the center of the back, or in some individuals, are so totally separated that the skunk appears nearly solid black. The hooded skunk also differs from the striped skunk in that its foot-long tail is longer than its body. Both animals have the thin white stripe on the face and have the same general preferences for riparian habitats.
There is no problem distinguishing the western spotted skunk, also known as the civet. The average length of this diminutive fellow, including the tail, is only about 15 inches. Females average less than a pound; males are about a pound and a half. This skunk is also faster and more agile than its larger cousins. The spotted skunk's overall color is black with a white triangular patch on the forehead and a white spot under each ear. Five or six broken white stripes run down the neck, back, and sides, giving the impression of blotches or spots, and the animal its name. The animal's hair is finer than that of the other species, and the tail is tipped in white. Although reported from every county in Arizona, the spotted skunk appears to favor rocky, mountainous areas.
Hog-nosed skunk (distribution shown on the left) is also easily identified by its entirely white back and tail and lack of any stripe on the forehead. Moreover, the elongated and slightly up-turned snout is largely naked, and the long claws on the feet are almost bear-like in appearance. This species occurs primarily in southeastern Arizona although specimens have been obtained from as far north as Flagstaff and the Hualapai Mountains.
All of the skunks are more or less omnivores, feeding on grasshoppers and other insects, grubs, worms, mice, lizards, bulbs, carrion, and garbage. Some individuals even take to raiding hen houses, taking not only the eggs, but chickens as well. Even the hog-nosed skunk, which digs for most of its food, will eat fruits and carrion on occasion.
The striped, hooded, and hog-nosed skunks all mate in late winter and early spring, and produce from two to four young in April or May. The spotted skunk breeds in late September and early October, but the fertilized egg remains in a state of arrested development until March or April when implantation occurs-the two to four young being born about a month later. The young of all the skunk species are raised and on their own by early fall. Few skunks live more than a year or two.
Hunting and Trapping History
Formerly a major furbearer, striped skunks in Arizona have dropped in average take to fewer than 100 per year since 1995. This is in some ways unfortunate, as uncontrolled populations of these animals are prone to rabies and constitute a health hazard to other carnivores, as well as to humans.