An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of November 28, 2004

SPOTTED SKUNK ENCOUNTER

Monday morning at dawn I was standing next to a pond hoping to see some wildlife when down the trail came a small, black critter with large white spots, and about the size of a normal rat. The binoculars showed it to be a Spotted Skunk, SPILOGALE AUGUSTIFRONS ssp YUCATANENSIS, and I was thrilled to think I might see it foraging for food along the water's edge. I stood perfectly still, trying to be "invisible."

The skunk passed right by the pond and continued bounding down the trail toward me. I could hardly believe my luck. Closer and closer he came until he was so near that my binoculars couldn't focus on him. I lowered my binoculars and as the skunk continued coming right at me I began thinking that I was not seeing standard skunk behavior.

In fact, that skunk ran right up to within a foot of my feet, suddenly did a hand-stand on his front legs with his back legs pointing skyward and his tail curled over his back. Not wanted to be squirted, I took off running.

Assuming that once the skunk saw me moving he'd be frightened and escape in the opposite direction, I proceeded only a few feet before stopping and looking back. The skunk was running after me. I ran 20 feet more and by golly that skunk stayed right behind me. I was barefooted and the trail was rough with jagged rocks so running was a painful business, but I did it anyway.

The skunk chased me a good 150 yards before I made it back to my little bungalow and just barely got the screen door slammed before he arrived and began sniffing and pushing furiously against the door's base. Then he actually climbed up the screen itself, but only got about a yard high before falling off. This he did several times.

I'd never heard of this kind of behavior in a skunk so I wondered whether I might have run into one with rabies. Fortunately I had a book describing certain Mexican mammals, including skunks (Fauna Sylvester de Mexico by A.S. Leopard), and it told me just what I wanted to know.

"The Spotted Skunk is more lively, agile and aggressive than the larger species," I read. "When Spotted Skunks feel threatened they often quickly attack their aggressor, and this habit has given rise to the false notion that Spotted Skunks are rabid... They've told me that in the Yucatan {they} attack without provocation, and that the most violent attacks take place when the male is looking for a female... "

So, I'd been witness to a behavior that was normal for the Yucatan subspecies of Spotted Skunk. I felt honored.

For the rest of the day that little skunk ran up and down the road and even in the middle of the day came sniffing and running around the big pool near the main residence. If he was looking for a lady skunk, he must have been absolutely intoxicated by his hormones, for rushing around like that in broad daylight isn't at all skunk-like.

That night I took a walk and in the moonlight saw him coming down the road. This time I let him come right up to me and actually get atop my bare feet. I couldn't see him clearly but it felt as if he did some kind of dance there, before I lost my nerve and once more ran away.

Sadly, the next morning we found him drowned in the big pool. I wasn't surprised, having seen how he rushed wherever he went.

This is one skunk I won't forget. Of course Ana MarĂ­a had to point out that a few weeks ago when I encountered a Mountain Lion in California I'd hardly broken my stride while jogging, yet this little Mexican skunk had managed to make me run down the road twice. I think the folks here regard that as one point for Mexico.

You can see a picture of the very similar and closely related Western Spotted Skunk at www.calmzoo.org/stories/storyReader$186.