Conepatus leuconotus (Lichtenstein, 1832)

Don E. Wilson & Russell A. Mittermeier, 2009, Mephitidae, Handbook of the Mammals of the World – Volume 1 Carnivores, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 532-562 : 555-556

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Conepatus leuconotus


3. View Plate 31: Mephitidae

American Hog-nosed Skunk

Conepatus leuconotus

French: Moufette a dos blanc / German: Ferkelskunk / Spanish: Zorrino dorsiblanco

Taxonomy. Mephitis leuconota Lichtenstein, 1832 ,

“Rio Alvarado” [Veracruz].

The white-backed hog-nosed skunks were considered as two distinct species. Genetic, morphometric, and color patterns have been used to relegate them to this single species. Three subspecies are recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution.

C. l. leuconotus Lichtenstein 1832 — S USA (S Arizona, New Mexico & Texas), most of Mexico (except Yucatan Peninsula) and S to Nicaragua.

C. l. figginsi F.W. Miller, 1925 — USA (SE Colorado, NE New Mexico, Oklahoma panhandle).

C. l. telmalestes Bailey 1905 — S USA (Big Thicket region of E Texas). View Figure

Descriptive notes. Head—-body 34-51 cm (males), 38-50 cm (females), tail, 14—4lcm (males), 12: 2-34 cm (females), length of hindfoot 2: 2-9 cm (males), 3-9 cm (females) and length of ear 0.8-3.6 cm (males), 0.8-3.3 cm (females); weight 2—4 kg. American Hog-nosed Skunk is as large as or larger than the Striped Skunk. They can be distinguished readily from other skunks by the color pattern of the dorsal pelage. These are the only skunks that lack a white dot or medial bar between the eyes and that have primarily black body fur with a single white stripe. The stripe starts as a single wedgeshaped white patch of fur on the head that widens near the shoulders to approximately half the width of the back. The stripe ranges from substantially reduced or absent on the rump to completely covering the entire back. The tail is white along its total length dorsally, but ventrally it can be black or white at the base. Their body generally is larger, and the tail is shorter in proportion to the body, than in other skunks. American Hog-nosed Skunks can be distinguished from the Striped Hog-nosed Skunks of Central and South America by the single dorsal stripe: the latter have two stripes bilateral to the spine. The snout of American Hog-nosed Skunk is relatively long and the nose pad, which is naked,is about 2 cm wide by 2: 6 cm long, and resembles the nose of a small hog. This species has small and rounded ears. Its legs are stocky and the feet are plantigrade. The hindfeet are broad and large; the soles are naked about half the length of the foot. The upper body is powerfully built for digging and climbing and the foreclaws are very long. The skull is relatively deep (deepest in the temporal region) and the nares are large and truncated. The auditory bullae are not inflated, and the palate ends behind upper molars. The carnassial teeth are not well-developed, and they as well as the large upper molar provide an increased crushing surface. The dental formula is I 3/3, C 1/1, P 2/3, M 1/2 = 32. Conepatus resorb the milk teeth prior to birth. The scent glands are at the base of the tail on either side of the rectum. Two major volatile components [(£)- 2-butene-1-thiol and (E)-$-2-butenyl thioacetate| and four minor components (phenylmethanethiol, 2-methylquinoline, 2-quinoline-methanethiol, and bis[(£)-2-butenyl| disulfide) are found in the anal sac secretions of American Hog-nosed Skunks.

Habitat. American Hog-nosed Skunk can be found in canyons, stream beds, and rocky terrain. They also are found in open desertscrub and mesquite-grasslands. In the southcentral part of their range they can be found in tropical areas as well as in mountains and coastal plains. They also are known to visit cornfields surrounded by brush or grassy plains, and scattered thickets of bull-horn acacia and other thorny plants. They can be found in both thorn woodland and riparian forest. In thorn woodland, the trees can vary in density from sparse to thick enough to form a loose canopy. Trees associated with the riparian forest habitat include pecan (Carya illinoensis), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), and live-oak (Quercus virginiana). The understory of the riparian forests where hog-nosed skunks have been found includes briers, tall grasses, and tall weeds. American Hog-nosed Skunks have been found in pine—oak forest in the San Carlos Mountains, and north of these mountains on the Tamaulipan plain, which consists of low scrub and cacti. They also can occur in mesquitebrushland and improved pasture habitat where a few areas of semi-open native grassland have been used exclusively for cattle ranching. Thorny brush and cactus constitute the predominant vegetation in the region of southern Texas where these skunks occur.

Food and Feeding. They have been observed attacking and devouring small rodents. However, this species is more insectivorous by nature and will spend hours digging for grubs and larvae. They also will eat pears, raisins, squash, green beans, radishes, green peppers, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables (with the exception of lima beans). Naturalists have trouble finding bait suitable for trapping these carnivores and have often had to capture individuals by hand. These skunks also may be capable of obtaining their daily water requirements from their food depending on the moisture content of the menu.

Activity patterns. These skunks are solitary and largely nocturnal, but not strictly so. They have been observed feeding during the heat of the day in New Mexico and Texas. They den in hollows in the roots of trees or fallen trunks and in cavities under rocks, and will take refuge in prickly pear cactus when aggravated. When an American Hognosed Skunk is threatened by a predator,its first response is to flee to cover. It may then turn to face its pursuer and, depending on the size and threat ofthe predator, stand on its hindlegs and even take two or three steps forward. Then it will come down hard on its front paws and exhale a burst of air in a loud hiss. Finally, it will draw its paws under its body, flinging dirt backwards. A defensive, frightened individual will crouch, stomp its front paws, raise its tail and hold it flat against its back, and bare its teeth. In this position it can bite and spray a predator, and will do both. American Hognosed Skunk can squirt a noxious liquid from anal scent glands, either as a mist when the threat is not specifically located, or as a stream directed toward a specific threat. The mist can be emitted while on the run.

Movements, Home range and Social organization. American Hog-nosed Skunks are solitary by nature, but will tolerate each other as well as other species depending on the situation. Males and females stay together briefly during breeding season. Females stay with their litters until early fall, when the young disperse. Little is known about the home range ofthis species.

Breeding. These skunks breed from late February through early March. A captive female had a gestation period of at least 70 days. Parturition occurs in April through May, and by late August the young begin to disperse. Females usually have litters of one to three; small litters of one to two half-grown young have been observed in late July through mid- August. American Hog-nosed Skunks have three pairs of mammae.

Status and Conservation. Not listed with CITES. Classified as Least Concern in The IUCN Red List, but populations have been declining for many years throughout a major portion of its historical range in the USA. The eastern Texas subspecies, ftelmalestes, is presumed extirpated throughoutits range in the Big Thicket region. In his Biological Survey of Texas, V. Bailey wrote, “the white-backed skunk is said to be the commonest species, and under a trapper’s shed at a ranch on Tarkington Prairie in November, 1904,I saw eight or ten of their skins hanging up to dry with a small number ofskins of Striped Skunk.” No new specimens of this subspecies have been collected in the Big Thicket area of Texas since Bailey's report in 1905. A telling, albeit fictional, explanation for the skunk’s decline is provided by Larry McMurtry, in his novel Lonesome Dove. one of his characters meets a couple in NE Texas. “In the dusk it was hard to make out much about her except that she was thin. She was barefoot and had on a dress that looked like it was made from part of a cotton sack. ‘I gave twenty-eight skunk hides for her,’ the old man said suddenly”. A more likely cause for the decline of hog-nosed skunk populations may be found in the increase in the number of trappers or possibly in the increased number of feral hogs that have been introduced into the area. Feral hogs compete, to some degree, with several species of wildlife for certain foods. They eat a variety of items, including fruits, roots, mushrooms, and invertebrates, depending on the season. Their rooting behavior is competitive with the rooting behavior of hog-nosed skunks. Feral hogs can have detectable influences on wildlife and plant communities as well as domestic crops and livestock, extensively disturbing vegetation and soil. In southern Texas, where 95% of the native vegetation in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has been transformed from subtropical plant communities to cotton, sorghum, sugar cane, vegetable crops, and citrus orchards, several additional hog-nosed skunk populations may now be extirpated. However, a population was found recently in southern Texas and currently is being studied. Because hog-nosed skunks generally are associated with rough rocky areas and brushy habitat, the conversion of native vegetation to row-crop agriculture may be partially responsible for the skunks’ decline. However, habitat modification may not be the primary cause of the observed decline, because specimens of this skunk have been collected in cultivated areas near Veracruz, Mexico. A more direct cause may be associated with use of pesticides in agriculture. Hog-nosed skunks are primarily insectivorous, and use of pesticides has increased throughout their range in conjunction with row-crop agriculture. In Colorado, no new specimens ofthis species have been collected since 1933. However, a road-killed animal was seen just south of the Colorado border in New Mexico in 2003. American Hog-nosed Skunks are taken by many predators, mainly large canids and felids, and by birds of prey. Additionally, the skunks support numerous parasites. External parasites include fleas ( Pulex ) and ticks (Ixodes texanus); intestinal parasites are roundworms (Psyalopteris maxillaris) and cestodes; and subcutaneous nematodes (Filaria martis) and Skrjabingylus chitwoodorum —infect the frontal sinuses. In west Texas, American Hog-nosed Skunks have been found infected with several species of helminth parasites, including Filaroides milks, Filaria taxidaea, Gongylonema sp., Macracanthorhynchus ingens, Mathevotaenia mephitis, Oncicola canis, Pachysentis canicola, Physaloptera maxillaris, and P. rara. In natural habitats, hognosed skunks are not known to survive for more than three or four years, but American hog-nosed skunks can live for 16 years or more in captivity.

Bibliography. Bailey (1905), Beasom (1974), Dalquest (1953), Davis (1951), Davis & Schmidly (1994), Dragoo (1993), Dragoo & Honeycutt (1999a, 1999b), Dragoo & Sheffield (In press), Dragoo et al. (2003), Hall & Dalquest (1963), Hall & Kelson (1952), Leopold (1959), Lichtenstein (1827-1834), Matson & Baker (1986), McMurtry (1985), Meaney etal. (2006), Merriam (1902), Miller (1925), Neiswenter et al. (2006), Patton (1974), Reid (1997), Schmidly (1983, 2002, 2004), Schmidly & Hendricks (1984), Slaughter et al. (1974), Tewes & Schmidly (1987), Wood et al. (1993).














Conepatus leuconotus

Don E. Wilson & Russell A. Mittermeier 2009

Mephitis leuconota

Lichtenstein 1832