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hooded skunk

Mephitis macroura

What do they look like?

Hooded skunks can be told apart from striped skunks by the long hairs on the back of their neck and head, which form a hood. Likewise, they have a long, bushy tail of mixed black and white hairs. Hooded skunks are smaller and more slender than striped skunks, but larger than spotted skunks. Hooded skunks also have a naked nose and shorter foreclaws than hog-nosed skunks. Hooded skunks and striped skunks can also be told apart by their skulls and how many mammae they have; hooded skunks have five pairs of mammae and striped skunks have six pairs. Hooded skunks are 558 to 790 mm long including a head to body length of 195 to 295 mm and a tail length of 357 to 400 mm. These skunks weigh 0.4 to 2.7 kg. Males are usually about 15% larger than females and have larger skulls, but are not as long as females. (Anderson, 1972; Bailey, 1932; Cahalane, 1961; Coues, 1877; Godin, 1982; Hall and Dalquest, 1950; Hall, 1981; Howell, 1901; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

The color pattern of hooded skunks fur can vary, although they are usually white-backed, black-backed, or completely black. White-backed hooded skunks have a white area on their back and two white stripes running down their back. Black-backed hooded skunks still have the white stripes on their back, but it is separated by mostly black fur. All-black hooded skunks do not have white stripes or any other white fur on their back. Their underbelly is usually mottled white to completely black in color. These skunks often have black hairs mixed into white-haired areas and their tail hairs may be white with black at the tips. Likewise, hooded skunks may have a thin white stripe on their nose running between their green eyes. (Anderson, 1972; Armstrong, et al., 1972; Bailey, 1932; Coues, 1877; Davis and Russell, 1954; Godin, 1982; Hall and Dalquest, 1950; Howell, 1901; Reid, 1997; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

Subspecies of hooded skunks may look slightly different from one another. Mephitis macroura macroura and M. m. milleri are larger than the other subspecies and have more white-backed than black-backed colorations. They can be told apart by their tail lengths and skull sizes where northern hooded skunks (M. m. milleri) have longer skulls and tails. Mephitis macroura eximus and M. m. richardsoni are more likely to have black-backed fur, but they can be told apart based on their range and tail length. The tail of Mephitis macroura eximus is longer than its body, while the tail of M. m. richardsoni is shorter than its body. (Goodwin, 1957; Hall and Dalquest, 1950; Howell, 1901)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    0.4 to 2 kg
    0.88 to 4.41 lb
  • Range length
    558 to 790 mm
    21.97 to 31.10 in

Where do they live?

Hooded skunks (Mephitis macroura) are found throughout the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northwestern Costa Rica. In the United States, they live in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Texas. In Texas, their range may even be increasing due to human developments and fields. Hooded skunks have four subspecies which are found in different parts of their range. Mephitis macroura eximus is only found in the lowlands of Central Veracruz, Mexico. Mephitis macroura macroura is found throughout southern Mexico, southwest of Durango, all the way to Guatemala. Mephitis macroura milleri is known as the northern hooded skunk and is found in the northern half of Mexico, up into the southern United States. Mephitis macroura richardsoni is found the furthest south in Central America including Nicaragua and Costa Rica. (Allen, 1901; Cervantes, et al., 2002; Goodwin, 1957; Hall and Dalquest, 1950; Hall, 1981; Howell, 1901; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Packard, 1965; Patton, 1974; Reid, 1997)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Hooded skunks can live in several habitats, from dry lowlands to boreal forests or plateaus, and many habitats in between. These skunks may be found in high-elevation ponderosa pine forests, deciduous forests, forest edges, riparian zones, rocky canyons, grasslands, pastures, and arid desert lowlands. In Oaxaca, Mexico, where they are the most common skunk species, they prefer grasslands and marshes over scrublands. Hooded skunks are mostly seen during the wet season from August to September. In general, hooded skunks den near rocky areas, crevices, or human-made objects with a permanent water source and plenty of plants. Hooded and striped skunks have smaller dens than other North American skunk species. Different hooded skunk subspecies may choose different habitats. The larger subspecies (M. m. milleri and M. m. macroura) are mostly found in temperate climates, with M. m. macroura found in higher elevation, mountainous areas. Mephitis macroura eximus is found in lowland, arid, coastal plains, while M. m. richardsoni is found in more temperate deciduous forests. (Bailey, 1932; Cervantes, et al., 2002; Davis and Russell, 1954; Godin, 1982; Hall and Dalquest, 1950; Hall, 1981; Howard and Marsh, 1982; Hubbard, 1972; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Patton, 1974; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987)

  • Range elevation
    300 to 3100 m
    984.25 to 10170.60 ft
  • Average elevation
    1100 m
    3608.92 ft

How do they reproduce?

Very little is known about the mating systems of hooded skunks, although they are believed to have a similar mating system as striped skunks. Striped skunks are polygynous, which means one male mates with several females. (Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

Hooded skunks breed from late February to March. They are pregnant for about 60 days before giving birth during the wet season in early May to June or as late as September and October in some areas. Their litters usually include 3 to 8 young, with an average of 4. (Anderson, 1972; Armstrong, et al., 1972; Bailey, 1932; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Patton, 1974; Reid, 1997)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Hooded skunks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    These skunks breed from late February to March.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
    4
  • Average number of offspring
    5.3
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    60 days
  • Average gestation period
    61 days
    AnAge

Little is known about the parental care shown by hooded skunks. Similar to striped skunks, males probably do not defend their offspring or mates. One female and her kits were observed foraging together for insects and human food waste in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. The mother was not aggressive towards nearby humans, and passively supervised her offspring for at least two months after birth. (Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

How long do they live?

Hooded skunks can live up to three years in captivity. In the wild, their death is often caused by predators, diseases, and being hunted by humans. (Coues, 1877; Davis, 1944; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Patton, 1974; Rosatte, 1987)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    3 (high) years

How do they behave?

Hooded skunks are nocturnal and leave their dens just after dusk. They are solitary animals and often travel along rock walls, streambeds, weedy fields, and roads. In some areas, hooded skunks gather at night at local garbage dumps. While foraging, hooded skunks move slowly and quietly through or near dense vegetation for cover. They may pounce on prey such as grasshoppers and are not known to dig for larvae as seen in hog-nose skunks. Kits may use the cover of large objects to sneak and steal food from other kits. Although they are often considered shy and secretive, hooded skunks may be approachable to humans as close as 2 meters away. (Bailey, 1932; Ceballos and Miranda, 1986; Coues, 1877; Godin, 1982; Hall, 1981; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987)

Home Range

The home range size of hooded skunks in Mexico can vary from 2.8 to 5.0 square kilometers. Little else is known about their home range size. (Bailey, 1932; Ceballos and Miranda, 1986; Coues, 1877; Hall, 1981; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987)

How do they communicate with each other?

Young hooked skunks are known to bite, squeal, stamp their feet, run at, raise their tails at, and even spray one another while fighting. Little else is known of their communication and mating behavior, probably because they are mostly solitary. (Godin, 1982)

What do they eat?

As with most skunks of North America, hooded skunks are omnivores, eating insects, small vertebrates, fruits, bird eggs, and human garbage. In Costa Rica, hooded skunks use their forelimbs to throw bird eggs between their hindlegs to break them open. These skunks can be trapped using sardines, chicken, or dog food as bait. In the wild, their stomach contents include 74.3% insects, with 50% of their diet made up of earwigs, stink bugs, and beetles. Vertebrate prey made up 12% of their diet, and plant material made up only about 1% of their diet. (Bailey, 1932; Coues, 1877; Hall, 1981; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Patton, 1974; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Hooded skunks may be hunted by humans and likely share similar predators as striped skunks such as great horned owls and coyotes, although it is not confirmed. When they are chased, hooded skunks can escape by using the burrows of other animals or hiding by cacti. Likewise, hooded skunks can release an anal scent gland spray as a last resort after warning an intruder by making movements and sounds. The white stripes on their nose and back help warn intruders that they can defend themselves. When frightened, hooded skunks run one to two meters away, raise their tail over their back and face their rear end and anal glands towards the intruder. They can spray a target up to a few meters away. Skunk spray causes a strong, long-lasting smell that causes the target's eyes to water. (Cahalane, 1961; Howard and Marsh, 1982; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Patton, 1974; Reed and Carr, 1949; Stankowich, et al., 2011; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982; Wood, et al., 2002; Wood, 1990)

Hooded skunks, like all skunks, will deploy their anal scent gland spray defense as a last resort after warning a potential predator using predictable body movements and vocalizations. The longitudinally-running white stripes on their rostrum and body may provide an aposematic cue to potential predators, advertising the skunk's capabilities. When frightened by a predator, hooded skunks will run one to two meters away, raise their tail over their back and face their rear end and anal glands towards the potential predator. They are capable of accurately spraying a target a few meters away. Their spray was once thought to contain the sulfide mercaptan, but it is now known that hooded skunks utilize three pairs of thiols and associated thioacetates as well as one methylquinoline as major chemical components in their anal gland fluid. Skunk spray causes a conspicuous, pungent, and persistent smell, and is a strong lachrymal agent. (Cahalane, 1961; Howard and Marsh, 1982; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Janzen and Hallwachs, 1982; Patton, 1974; Stankowich, et al., 2011; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982; Wood, et al., 2002; Wood, 1990)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • aposematic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Hooded skunks eat insects and likely help control insect populations. They may also host many parasites including roundworms and fleas. This species has also been found carrying the rabies virus and in one case, feline distemper. (Bailey, 1932; Carreno, et al., 2005; Dragoo, et al., 2004; Godin, 1982; Hass and Dragoo, 2006; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Oertli, et al., 2009; Patton, 1974; Rosatte, 1987)

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species
  • Humans Homo sapiens
Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • Physaloptera maxillaries
  • Skrjabingylus chiwoodorum
  • Skrjabingylus santaceciliae

Do they cause problems?

Hooded skunks may carry the rabies virus, although they are not as infamous for it as striped skunks. They may eat chicken eggs and garbage around farms, and can live in dens below or in human-made structures, and can therefore be seen as pests by humans. They may also occasionally spray humans and dogs if they are cornered. (Dragoo, et al., 2004; Hass and Dragoo, 2006; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Oertli, et al., 2009; Patton, 1974; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

How do they interact with us?

Humans have traditionally hunted hooded skunks for their meat or for their anal musk glands, which are used in some folk medicines in Guatemala. Although their pelt is not currently valuable, their pelts have been used in the past because they are light, fine, and airy. Hooded skunks eat large amounts of insects and are therefore helpful to farmers looking to control insect populations. (Bailey, 1932; Coues, 1877; Davis, 1944; Patton, 1974; Reid, 1997; Rosatte, 1987)

Are they endangered?

Hooded skunks are abundant throughout Mexico, the southern United States, and Central America, and are not threatened by increased farming. They are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List. (Cuarón, et al., 2013; Hall, 1981; Hwang and Larivière, 2001; Patton, 1974)

Some more information...

Skunks were once included with weasels in family Mustelidae, but recent DNA evidence has placed them in their own family, Mephitidae. An ancestor of modern skunks from the early Pliocene epoch was recently discovered in Baja California Sur, Mexico, and is believed to show where skunk species originated. (Dragoo and Honeycutt, 1997; Wang, et al., 2013)

The scientific species name for hooded skunks, macroura mean 'large tail' in Greek. They have also been known by other scientific names such as Mephitis mexicana, Mephitis longicaudata, Mephitis edulis, and Chincha macroura. Hooded skunks may also be known by other common names including white-sided skunk, southern skunk, long-tailed Mexican skunk, and zorillo in Spanish. (Coues, 1877; Godin, 1982; Howell, 1901; Reid, 1997; Wade-Smith and Verts, 1982)

Contributors

Kevin Bairos-Novak (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Allen, J. 1901. The generic names of the Mephitinae. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 14/22: 325-334.

Anderson, S. 1972. Mammals of Chihuahua: taxonomy and distribution. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 148/2: 383-384.

Armstrong, D., K. Jones, Jr., E. Birney. 1972. Mammals from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. III. Carnivora and Artiodactyla. Journal of Mammalogy, 53/1: 48-61.

Bailey, V. 1932. Mammals of New Mexico. North American Fauna, 53: 1-412.

Cahalane, V. 1961. Mammals of North America. New York: MacMillan Company.

Carreno, R., K. Reif, S. Nadler. 2005. A new species of Skrjabingylus Petrov, 1927 (Nematoda: Metastrongyloidea) from the frontal sinuses of the hooded skunk, Mephitis macroura (Mustelidae). Journal of Parasitology, 91/1: 102-107.

Ceballos, G., A. Miranda. 1986. Los mamifros de Chamela, Jalisco: manual de campo. Mé́xico City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México.

Cervantes, F., J. Loredo, J. Vargas. 2002. Abundance of sympatric skunks (Mustelidae: Carnivora) in Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 18/3: 463-469.

Coues, E. 1877. Fur-bearing animals: a monograph of North American Mustelidae. Department of Interior, United States Geological Survey of Territories, Miscellaneous Publications, 8: 1-348.

Cuarón, A., F. Reid, K. Helgen. 2013. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Mephitis macroura. Accessed October 26, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Davis, W. 1944. Notes on Mexican mammals. Journal of Mammalogy, 25/4: 370-403.

Davis, W., R. Russell. 1954. Mammals of the Mexican state of Morelos. Journal of Mammalogy, 35/1: 63-80.

Dragoo, J., R. Honeycutt. 1997. Systematics of mustelid-like carnivores. Journal of Mammalogy, 78/2: 371-376.

Dragoo, J., D. Matthes, A. Aragon, C. Hass, T. Yates. 2004. Identification of skunk species submitted for rabies testing in the desert southwest. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 40/2: 371-376.

Godin, A. 1982. Striped and hooded skunks. Pp. 674-687 in J Chapman, G Feldhamer, eds. Wild Mammals of North America: biology, management, and economics. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Goodwin, G. 1957. A new kinkajou from Mexico and a hooded skunk from Central America. American Museum Novitates, 1830: 1-4.

Hall, E. 1981. The mammals of North America, Second Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Hall, E., R. Dalquest. 1950. Geographic range of the hooded skunk, Mephitis macroura, with description of a new subspecies from Mexico. University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History, 1: 579-580.

Hass, C., J. Dragoo. 2006. Rabies in hooded and striped skunks in Arizona. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 42/4: 825-829.

Howard, W., R. Marsh. 1982. Spotted and hog-nosed skunks. Pp. 664-673 in J Chapman, G Feldhamer, eds. Wild Mammals of North America: biology, management, and economics. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Howell, A. 1901. Revision of the skunks of the genus Chincha. North American Fauna, 20: 8-63.

Hubbard, J. 1972. Hooded skunk on the Mogollon Plateau, New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist, 16/3 & 4: 458.

Hwang, Y., S. Larivière. 2001. Mephitis macroura. Mammalian Species, 686: 1-3.

Janzen, D., W. Hallwachs. 1982. The hooded skunk, Mephitis macroura, in lowland northwestern Costa Rica. Brenesia, 19/20: 549-552.

Oertli, E., P. Wilson, P. Hunt, T. Sidwa, R. Rohde. 2009. Epidemiology of rabies in skunks in Texas. JAVMA, 234/5: 616-620.

Packard, R. 1965. Range extension of the hooded skunk in Texas and Mexico. Journal of Mammalogy, 46/1: 102.

Patton, R. 1974. Ecological and behavioural relationships of the skunks of Trans Pecos Texas. Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1: 1-199.

Reed, C., W. Carr. 1949. Use of cactus as protection by hooded skunk. Journal of Mammalogy, 50/1: 79-80.

Reid, F. 1997. A field guide to the mammals of Central America & southeast Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Rosatte, R. 1987. Striped, spotted, hooded, and hog-nosed skunk. Pp. 599-613 in M Nowak, J Baker, M Obbard, B Malloch, eds. Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Stankowich, T., T. Caro, M. Cox. 2011. Bold coloration and the evolution of aposematism in terrestrial carnivores. Evolution, 65/11: 3090-3099.

Wade-Smith, J., B. Verts. 1982. Mephitis mephitis. Mammalian Species, 173: 1-7.

Wang, X., Ó. Carranza-Castañeda, J. Aranda-Gómez. 2013. A transitional skunk, Buisnictis metabatos sp. nov. (Mephitidae, Carnivora), from Baja California Sur and the role of southern refugia in skunk evolution. Journal of Systematic Paleontology, 10/49: 1-12.

Wood, W. 1990. New components in defensive secretion of the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16/6: 2057-2065.

Wood, W., B. Sollers, G. Dragoo, J. Dragoo. 2002. Volatile components in defensive spray of the hooded skunk, Mephitis macroura. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 28/9: 1865-1870.

 
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Bairos-Novak, K. 2014. "Mephitis macroura" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 18, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Mephitis_macroura/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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