By: Fil Tkaczyk
Skunk tracks can be found in a variety of habitat types including: fields, farmland, deserts, open woodlands, suburbs and parks, usually not far from water.
Skunks are omnivorous eating berries, fruit, eggs, baby birds, small mammals, invertebrates and carrion.
There are 6 species of skunks in North America that range North of the Mexico: the western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis), eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius), Hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura), Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), western hognose skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus) and eastern hognose skunk (Conepatus leuconotus). Of these, the striped skunks are the most common and well-known.
Like raccoons, bears and opossums, skunks walk with their feet flat to the ground (plantigrade). The feet of skunks have 5 toes on the front and five toes on the back. The tracks of the striped skunk footprints appear like those of a miniature bear. The front feet have long claws that show up as dots well ahead of the toes. The rear feet have an enlarged heel pad that appears long and rectangular in shape in most substrates. The front heel pad is smaller and has a reduced additional pad which may show up as a single dot behind and center of the front heel pad.
Fronts: 1 5/8” – 2 1/16” x 1” – 1 3/16”
Rears: 1 15/16” – 2” x 15/16” – 1 3/16”
Striped skunks can travel in a variety of gaits. They can travel across open expanses in a lope. While moving more slowly to search an area for food they can travel in walk, often an overstep walk.
The scat of striped skunks is can vary, but is often tubular, having blunt ends and smooth surface. They are not hard, and break up easily if prodded.
The tracks of bears are somewhat similar, but many times larger. The tracks of ground squirrels or large tree squirrels might be confused with skunk tracks. Look closely at the number of toes on both front and hind feet. Like other rodents, squirrels have 4 toes on the front and five on the hind.
References: Elbroch 2003, Halfpenny 1999, Murie 1954, Rezendes 1999.
Tkaczyk, Filip A. 2009. Skunk Tracks and Sign. Alderleaf Wilderness College. www.wildernesscollege.com/skunk-tracks.html
All photos courtesy of Jennifer Tkaczyk.
To find out more about skunks in Washington State check out Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Resource Page
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