American Hog-nosed Skunk, Conepatus leuconotus

The American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus), also known as the rooter skunk, is native to North and Central America. This species’ large range includes much of Mexico, and Texas and Colorado in the United States. In its range, it prefers a habitat within rocky terrain, streambeds, and canyons, and in Mexico, it occurs in many areas including mountains, tropical areas, and thorn woodlands. It occurs in arid habitats in southern Texas including areas with cactus and thorny brush. This species holds three recognized subspecies, but it is thought that one of these is extinct.

The American hog-nosed skunk has an average body length of 17 to 37 inches, with a weight of up to ten pounds. Its legs are stout and each paw pad completely touches the ground. It is a stout animal with sharp fore claws. The most distinctive feature of this skunk is the broad white stripe that extends from its head to the tip of its tail, where it becomes long and fluffy. The rest of its short fur is black, and this skunk lacks the white dot or stripe between the eyes that is common to skunk species.

The American hog-nosed skunk looks more like a badger than it does a skunk, with its triangular shoulder blades and strong forearms, and it has adapted to a digging lifestyle. The nose is nearly three times larger than that of the striped skunk, and resembles a pig’s nose. It has a strong sense of smell that it uses to locate buried food.

The typical breeding season for the American hog-nosed skunk occurs between the months of February and March, with most females becoming pregnant by the end of March. After approximately sixty days, one to five babies are born in a litter.

This skunk feeds primarily on plant materials and insects, but it has been known to eat small mammals and reptiles. Its common name, the rooting skunk, derives from it habits of overturning rocks and rubble in order to find food. Because of these habits, farmers sometimes consider it a pest, although this is an exaggeration because the skunks prefer to eat insects rather than vegetation.

The American hog-nosed skunk as a species is not threatened, but the IUCN considers the big thicket hog-nosed skunk subspecies, whose range included southwestern Texas, to be extinct. Local populations are thought to be threatened, including those in Colorado that numbered only 1,000 individuals as of 2006. Two other localized populations is Oklahoma and New Mexico were considered endangered in 2006, because these populations numbered only 3,000 or less individuals. However, in Arizona and Texas, populations of these skunks are thriving, and are known as “fur bearers” by the United States Forest Service. The American hog-nosed skunk appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

Image Caption: Color illustration of a hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus) by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Published in the book Wild Animals of North America, copyright 1918 by the National Geographic Society. Credit: Caspian/Wikipedia