By Ali Dunstan
What is black and white and fluffy all over? That would have to be a skunk.
Florida is home to both the traditional striped skunk as well as the eastern spotted skunk. Striped and spotted skunks can be found throughout the state with a wide distribution range that excludes the Florida Keys.
The striped skunk is physically characterized by its mostly black body that has two broad, white vertical stripes running down the length of their back and a thin, white stripe down the center of their face. In contrast, the eastern spotted skunk’s mainly black body has sporadic, smaller, white stripes on its back with an upside down white triangle typically located on the forehead.
On average, the striped skunk is the size of a house cat while spotted skunks are a little bit smaller. Skunks are nocturnal mammals who forage mostly in the early evening hours throughout the night. As omnivores, their diet consists of both plants and animals.
Skunks are very beneficial to farmers and gardeners because they eat large quantities of unwanted agricultural pests such as beetles and grasshoppers. They are also known to snack on rodents, reptiles, crustaceans and various vegetations.
Skunks mostly live in dens in the ground and are abundant in both urban and suburban habitats. Shy by nature, these gentle, solitary animals are preyed on by great horned owls and bobcats and face additional threats from people and dogs.
Though infamous for their emission of a foul odor when frightened, these interesting animals do provide ample warnings when they are in danger. When threatened, a skunk will either run away or arch their back and stomp their feet to appear frightening. Spotted skunks will also stand on their front legs in a handstand position before utilizing the last of their defense mechanisms: spraying a foul-smelling, oily musk from their rear-located scent glands. Skunks can project this scent up to 15 feet away, with the intention of distracting their predators with the pungent odor just long enough for them to escape the threat.
Like other wildlife species, skunks are facing habitat loss and destruction. In fact, the eastern spotted skunk is considered a species of greatest conservation need within the state and has declining population numbers. If you happen upon a skunk, please remember that skunks are not a danger. Quietly observe from a distance and never touch, harass or feed wildlife.