Brachyprotoma—Short-faced Skunks // Conepatus sp.—Hog-nosed Skunks // Conepatus leuconotus—Hog-nosed Skunk // Mephitis sp.—Striped Skunks // Mephitis macroura—Hooded Skunk // Mephitis mephitis—Striped Skunk // Spilogale sp.—Spotted Skunks // Spilogale gracilis/putorius—Spotted Skunks
During most of the period during which Pleistocene remains were recovered from our region, skunks were considered to belong to the Mustelidae (weasels and relatives). More recently, they have been recognized as forming a family-level clade.
As most people are aware, skunks have evolved a powerful anti-predator device in their ability to spray a strong-scented liquid from anal glands. Aside from the smell, the liquid may cause pain and injury if it enters the eyes. As with many animals that have the capacity to repel predators, skunks display aposematic (warning) coloration; in the case of the skunks, prominent patterns of white and black make them conspicuous. Predators usually quickly learn that a conspicuous pattern means that the potential prey has nothing to fear.
Skunks generally feed on invertebrates, but will take whatever animal material is available.
A single specimen (UTEP 17-1, a right dentary with p4; Fig. 1) was earlier (4 Dec 2008) identified as ? Brachyprotoma. Brachyprotoma brevis, known from Utah, appeared to be of proper size, but with the lower jaw unknown (Heaton 1985). Since then, I have had the opportunity to see the original description of the genus (Brown 1908). According to Brown (1908), generic characters include the presence of three greatly crowded premolars. Crowding is not noticeable in the present specimen, rendering it unlikely that it is assignable to Brachyprotoma. Despite the similarity overall to Spilogale, that identification was rejected on the basis on alveoli for only two premolars. However, the alternative mentioned in the earlier account is now deemed very likely: "[An alternative] possibility is that Spilogale is represented, with either a rare genetically controlled loss of a premolar or traumatic loss early on with complete healing of the region."
Fig. 1. Lateral and medial views of a right dentary, at one time thought to possibly represent Brachyprotoma. Scale in mm.
The specimen originally was identified as Mustela frenata (Harris 1993c).
Brown 1908; Harris 1993c; Heaton 1985.
This record probably could be combined with Conepatus leuconotus, since only a single species is now known this far north. However, it will remain a separate account since Logan (1981) published only the genus.
Late Wisconsin: Muskox Cave (Logan 1981).
Literature. Logan 1981
Synonyms. Conepatus mesoleucus.
Until relatively recently, the genus Conepatus was considered to consist of two species, one primarily western and extending south into the interior of Mexico and Central America and one extending from the southern tip of Texas southward along the gulf side of Mexico. The two were recognized as a single species by Dragoo et al. (2003).
Conepatus appears relatively rare in our region compared to Mephitis mephitis or Spilogale gracilis. It prefers woodland or forest habitats, but has been taken in the desert.
A specimen from Pit N&W Animal Fair earlier identified as Conepatus mesoleucus (Harris 1993c) has been re-identified.
Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Burnet Cave (Schultz and Howard 1935: cf.).
Literature. Dragoo et al. 2003; Harris 1993c; Schultz and Howard 1935.
Czaplewski and Mead et al. (1999) declined to hazard an opinion as to the species identification of scanty material from Papago Springs Cave. Skinner (1942) identified M. occidentalis (=M. mephitis), but may not have been aware of the possibility of confusion with M. macroura; I have refrained from listing M. mephitis from that site.
?Late Irvingtonian/Rancholabrean: Emery Borrow Pit (Jefferson 1991b).
Mid Wisconsin: Papago Springs Cave (Czaplewski and Mead et al. 1999).
Literature. Czaplewski and Mead et al. 1999; Skinner 1942.
The Hooded Skunk has its main distributional range in Mexico, but extends into the border region of the U.S. from about the Big Bend of Texas west through the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona. Since little is known about skeletal differences between this species and M. mephitis, it is quite possible that specimens identified as M. mephitis actually represent this species.
Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Deadman Cave (Mead et al. 1984).
Literature. Mead et al. 1984.
Synonyms: Mephitis occidentalis.
The Striped Skunk is the common skunk throughout much of our region today, and it also is the species of skunk most often recovered as a fossil. This skunk does nicely from desert to boreal forest.
It should be noted, however, that M. macroura (Hooded Skunk) is a possibility and cannot be distinguished from the Striped Skunk on most bony elements.
Fig. 1. Right dentary of Mephitis mephitis from Charlies Parlor, Dry Cave. Age is approximately 15,000 BP. Scale in mm.
Fig. 2. Ventral view of the skull of Mephitis mephitis from Big Manhole Cave. Scale in mm.
Wisconsin: Carpinteria (Wilson 1933).
Mid Wisconsin: Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003); U-Bar Cave (Harris 1987).
Mid Wisconsin-Holocene: Shelter Cave (Harris 1993c).
Mid/Late Wisconsin: Animal Fair (Harris 1993c); Big Manhole Cave; Dark Canyon Cave (Tebedge 1988); Rancho La Brea (Stock and Harris 1992).
Mid/Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Sierra Diablo Cave (UTEP).
Late Wisconsin: Algerita Blossom Cave (Harris 1993c); Anderson Basin et al. (Morgan and Lucas 2005); Animal Fair 18-20 ka (Harris 1989: ?); Blackwater Loc. No. 1 (Morgan and Lucas 2005); Camel Room (Harris 1993c); Cueva Quebrada (Lundelius 1984); Charlies Parlor (Harris 1989); Dust Cave (Harris and Hearst 2012); Human Corridor (Harris 1993c); U-Bar Cave 13-14 ka (Harris 1989); U-Bar Cave 14-15 ka (Harris 1989); U-Bar Cave 15-18 ka (Harris 1989); U-Bar Cave 18-20 ka (Harris 1989).
Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Balcony Room (Harris 1993c); Baldy Peak Cave (Harris 1993c); Conkling Cavern (Conkling 1932: Striped Skunk, Mephitis); Isleta Cave No. 1 (Harris 1993c); Isleta Cave No. 2 (Harris 1993c); Pendejo Cave (UTEP); Robledo Cave (Harris 1993c: cf.); SAM Cave (Rogers et al. 2000).
Conkling 1932; Harris 1987, 1989, 1993c, 2003; Harris and Hearst 2012; Lundelius 1984; Morgan and Lucas 2005; Rogers et al. 2000; Stock and Harris 1992); Tebedge 1988; Wilson 1933).
Although Wisconsin-age Spilogale can reasonably be assigned to the living species (and I have done so here), there is no guarantee that the Blancan species was the same as the modern.
Late Blancan: Caballo (Morgan et al. 2011); Curtis Ranch (Morgan and White 2005); La Union (Morgan and Lucas 2003).
Sangamon: Newport Bay Mesa (Jefferson 1991b: cf. gen.).
Literature. Morgan and Lucas 2003; Morgan and White 2005 Morgan et al. 2011.
Synonyms: Spilogale phenax. Spilogale arizonae is a synonym of S. gracilis. Skinner (1942) identified S. arizonae from Papago Springs Cave.
There are two species of spotted skunks possible in late Pleistocene fossil faunas of the region: S. gracilis, the Western Spotted Skunk, and S. putorius, the Eastern Spotted Skunk. At one time, the two were considered to be one species. Mead (1968), however, considered them separate on the basis of reproductive physiology and morphology, with the two species being reproductively isolated or nearly so. Osteological features separating the two species are not apparent, and thus fossil occurrences of Spilogale are recorded here only to the combined level in most cases, though it is considered likely that it is the western species in most sites, and the farther west, the more likely.
This is a smaller, more lightly built skunk than Mephitis mephitis, but it likewise enjoys a wide variety of habitats. It is quite common in the region, both today and as a fossil.
Fig. 1 (left). Ventral view of the fossil skull of Spilogale from Big Manhole Cave (UTEP 120.89). Scale in mm.
Most skunks will stamp their front feet as a warning; the Spotted Skunks, if pressed, will sometimes go a step further and do a handstand (which apparently in no way diminishes their spray accuracy).
Fig. 2 (right). Drawing of a Spotted Skunk doing its warning handstand. Drawing © 1999 Zackery Zdinak.
Medial Irvingtonian: SAM Cave (Rogers et al. 2000: S. putorius).
Rancholabrean: Mescal Cave (Jefferson 1991b); Papago Springs Cave (Skinner 1942).
Wisconsin: Carpinteria (Wilson 1933: cf.).
Early/Early-Mid Wisconsin: Lost Valley (Harris 1993c).
Mid Wisconsin: McKittrick (Schultz 1937); Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003); U-Bar Cave (Harris 1987).
Mid Wisconsin-Holocene: Shelter Cave (Hall 1936, Harris 1993c).
Mid/Late Wisconsin: Animal Fair (Harris 1993c); Dark Canyon Cave (Tebedge 1988.); Hampton Court (Harris 1993c); Pit N&W Animal Fair (Harris 1993c); Rampart Cave (Lindsay and Tessman 1947); Rancho La Brea (Stock and Harris 1992).
Late Wisconsin: Antelope Cave (Jefferson 1991b); Big Manhole Cave (Harris 1993c); Cueva Quebrada (Lundelius 1984); Lower Sloth Cave (Logan 1983: S. gracilis); Muskox Cave (Logan 1981: S. gracilis); Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003); Skull Cave (Emslie 1988); U-Bar Cave 14-15 ka (Harris 1989); U-Bar Cave 15-18 ka (Harris 1989).
Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Conkling Cavern (Harris 1993c); Deadman Cave (Mead et al. 1984); Howell's Ridge Cave (Harris 1993c); Kokoweef Cave (Jefferson 1991b); Pendejo Cave (Harris 2003)
Emslie 1988; Hall 1936; Harris 1987, 1989, 1993c, 2003; 1991b; Lindsay and Tessman 1974; Logan 1981, 1983; Lundelius 1984; Mead 1968; Mead et al. 1984; Rogers et al. 2000; Schultz 1937; Skinner 1942; Stock and Harris 1992); Tebedge 1988; Wilson 1933).
This is a small skunk, about the size of the extant Spilogale pygmaea. It is considered the most primitive of the spotted skunks and probably ancestral to living forms (Kurtén and Anderson 1980).
Late Blancan: 111 Ranch (Morgan and White 2005).
Kurtén and Anderson 1980; Morgan and White 2005.
Last Update: 3 Mar 2014