The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cross Timbers Wildlife News
Civet Cats
Jim Dillard, Wildlife Biologist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Mineral Wells

From all the calls I get at my office and conversations down at the coffee shop about strange animals and “things in the night” folks have seen, thought they saw, heard or were told about by a friend or relative, I’m not so sure there isn’t another whole world of animals out there unknown to science. Mix in local common names, myths, legends and old wives tales passed down from generation to generation about these elusive creatures and the credibility of even the most seasoned wildlife biologist can be put in question. Civet cats are a case in point. Polecats are another story!

When I was a kid, it seemed that every “civet cat” that wandered into the small farming town where I grew up down in Central Texas found its way under our house and remained there for days. I wasn’t sure what a civet cat looked like or how big they got, but according to grandma, they were worse than polecats. There was no doubt when one got under the old house, and about all we could do was open all the windows and doors and hope for a breeze. Eventually, it would either move on or be evicted by my yard dog Jingles which was not always a good thing. Although singularly devoted to protecting the sanctity of our home and yard from all intruders, Jingles was a slow learner and invariably suffered the consequences of his loyalty. Good dog, good dog – now go away – far, far away! Bathing Jingles in a concoction of tomato juice and peroxide to rid him of the malodorous spray from the civet cat seemed to just transfer the smell from him to me. I never did actually see one of those civet cats but imagined them to be vicious cat-like creatures that could whip their weight in yard dogs.

The Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) or “civet cat” is neither a civet nor a cat, rather a member of the North American Family Mephitidae that includes other Texas species such as Stripped Skunk, Hooded Skunk, Hog-nosed skunk and Western Spotted Skunk. True civets belong the weasel-cat-like Family Viverridae found in Asia and Africa that also includes the mongoose. The scientific name Spilogale is Greek for spotted (spilo) weasel (gale). The species name putorius is Latin and refers to the smell. The Eastern Spotted Skunk ranges from the Texas Panhandle across North Texas and east of the Balcones Escarpment into Central, East and South Texas. It’s replaced in the Trans Pecos region by the Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis.)

Spotted skunks are half to a third the size of their striped skunk cousin, averaging about 22 inches from nose to tip of tail. They’re more weasel-like with a small head and short ears. Markings include a white spot on their forehead and in front of each ear, six distinct white strips down their back and sides and two uninterrupted white bands across their rump. Other white spots decorate their posterior near the base of their tail which is usually solid black with a white tip. An adult will tip the scales at about two pounds. There are five toes on each foot with the claws on their front feet being twice a long as those on the hind feet. In the wild, they’ll live only one to two years.

Spotted skunks are solitary and more nocturnal than other skunk species. I have encountered only one or two over the years while conducting deer spotlight surveys at night here in North Texas. They prefer wooded areas or tall-grass prairies with rocky outcrops and crevices where they hunt for food. Being good climbers, they can climb into trees to den in hollows or cavities. They also dig burrows in the ground or confiscate those dug by other animals or take up residence in hollow logs, abandoned (or occupied) buildings or rock and brush piles. Although they don’t hibernate, they may sleep for up to a month at a time during the winter by living on stored fat in their bodies.

Eastern Spotted Skunks are opportunistic feeders and eat a wide variety of animals and plants including rats, mice, rabbits, birds, bird eggs, insects, fruits (grapes, persimmons, etc.,) seeds and carrion. Their small size enables them to squeeze through small openings in pursuit of food, including poultry houses where they are unwelcome by farmers (and especially the poultry.) They’re good “mousers” and considered beneficial in helping control rodents around barns and feed storage buildings.

Spotted skunks breed in March and April but their eggs may not be fertilized for up to two weeks. Males do not participate in rearing of the young. Following a 50-65 day gestation period, two to nine (usually four-six) lightly furred kittens weighing 10 grams or so are born. Their eyes open in about a month, and by 46 days, they can produce their own musk. At three months, they are adult size and reach sexual maturity in 9-10 months. Some females may breed again in July for a second litter of little stinkers.

As with other skunks, Eastern Spotted Skunks are capable of using their powerful fumigating defensive strategy to survive. Unless you just happen to walk right up on one and give it no other choice, they’ll give you some visual clues that you’re too close and had better back off – or else. And they do not favorably respond to “heeeeear, kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty” either. When worse comes to worse, they’ll do a handstand on their forefeet, raise their tail and let you or whatever is agitating them have it. Or, they’ll drop to all fours, bend their body in a “U” shape and direct their derrière and head toward the intended target. A salvo of methyl mercaptan from two glands located just inside their anus can be sprayed accurately 12-20 feet. Musk from the Eastern Spotted Skunk is considered to be more potent than that of other skunk species.

Enemies of Eastern Spotted Skunk’s are great-horned owls, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, man and slow-learning dogs like Jingles. Many meet their fate on our roadways. They’re sort of a good news – bad news little critter, one to respect but also one to appreciate for keeping us on our toes when we’re out poking around in the great outdoors. Until next time, I’ll see you down the road and God Bless America!


At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good article.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just happen to walk around a shed and found one all balled up and sleeping out in the open. I was with my dog and he went up to it to sniff and when it moved he ran over to me and I picked him up and ran. It did not have any smell until after it woke up all the way. We did not get sprayed but this thing was living on my property. I seen it a couple of weeks before. I had to get rid of it as it did not seem afraind of me. I took care of it and it is not there any longer. I am thinking that it may have had rabies since it did not seem afraid of me.

At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Dulcie said...

Quite worthwhile information, thank you for the article.

At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very helpful in telling a teacher (who knows it alllll) that she is for about the billionth time wrong.(If u want to stay after school I will show u I'm wright bla,bla ,bla) thanks

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Mr Gixpoi said...


If you’ve got a cat that keeps peeing all over your house, it becomes annoying after a while.

The bad smells and the effort involved in cleaning up makes life a misery.

So much so that some people consider getting rid of their cat...

Cuz that seems to be the only logical way to solve the problem.

But the great news is you don’t have to do this.

You CAN keep your cat and stop the problem.


All you have to do is try “Cat Spraying No More”.

It’s a PROVEN step-by-step system guaranteed to stop your cat peeing outside its litter box.

You’ll discover how to use your cat’s own instincts to stop the problem.

And it’s also backed up by a 60-day money back guarantee, so there’s no risk.

Go here to find out more…

>>> No More Cat Urine Everywhere <<<

>>> Use THIS and Your cat will ALWAYS pee in its Litter Box <<<

>>> No More Cat Pee Everywhere <<<

>>> Peace of Mind For A Messy Cat <<<

Talk soon,


At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got a problem with a "civet cat" killing my chickens, one by one. It or they come under the cloak of darkness. I suppose it's really an Eastern Spotted Skunk because the description here is very accurate. I live in Parker County Texas but have had a bad experience with one getting under my house in Richland Hills, a suburb of Ft. Worth. What a stink! It wedged itself between framing and died at my insistence, and had to pull it out by it's tail. Lucky I didn't get a face full!


Post a Comment

<< Home