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Conepatus chinga - Molina’s Hog-nosed Skunk

Physical Description:

The hog nosed skunk (Conepatus chinga) has a black to dark brown body with varying white parts.  White stripes extending along the entire body or a few white hairs on the head are evident characteristics of this species of skunk (Colman et al. 2002 ). Head and body length is 300-490 mm, the tail is 160-410 mm, and the weight ranges between 2.3-4.5 kg.  The hog-nosed skunk has the most coarse fur of all skunks.  The nose is snout-like, broad, bare, and projecting. As in most skunks, this species also has an anal scent gland.  The female has three pairs of mammae (Gray 1837) and in Uruguay, females are smaller than males (Colman et al. 2002). 

Individual variation in color is quite common within the family Mephitidae.  Although a color pattern has been used in the past as a taxonomic character to distinguish between similar populations and taxa of hog-nosed skunks, a closer look at color-pattern variations shows that the degree of variation associated with this species is too large for any meaningful use as a diagnostic character (Dragoo et al. 1999).

Distribution:

Conepatus chinga occurs from southern Bolivia through Uruguay, and central Chile into Argentina, where it is found as far south as Neuquen province (Gray 1837).  In Paraguay, it is distributed throughout the whole western region and in northern Dpto (Colman et al. 2002).

Morphologically, there isn’t a clear separation among named subspecies and species of Conepatus in the United States and Mexico.  However, South America taxa are consistently different based on cranial measurements, overall color pattern and genetics.  Thus, the three taxa species, Conepatus chinga, Conepatus semistriantus, and Conepatus humnoldtii from South and Central America should be recognized as a distinct species; the striped hog-nosed skunk.  Only one species of white-backed hog-nosed skunks lives in North America (Dragoo et al. 1999).

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

Conepatus chinga species breeds once a year, but reproduction is usually not consistent with any particular season; it depends on the reproductive status of each individual.  Most gestation periods last about two months, and between two and four kits are born (Colman et al. 2002).

Ecology and Behavior:

Hog-nosed skunks can be found in various habitats from the Paraguayan Chaco to the Patagonian steppe, up to 3,000-meter elevations (Colman et al. 2002).  This species also tends to avoid dense forests, and stays within open and wooded areas.  Dens are located in hollow logs, rocky places, or in burrows previously made by other animals.  Like all skunks, Conepatus chinga are nocturnal and slow moving.  Since Conepatus chinga usually don’t climb trees, anal scent glands play a role in defense, expelling a strong musk toward predators up to 15 feet away.  The strong musk can burn the eyes and lead to momentary loss of vision (Gray 1837).  They are also resistant to pit viper venom.  The musk protects them from vipers that may be hunting them for food (Gray 1837).

Hog-nosed skunks rely on their well-developed forelimbs armed with long claws and a muzzle to locate prey.  Overall findings studied in Patagnonia, indicate that Conepatus chinga species are generalist feeders with an omnivore/insectivore diet.  They are found to be opportunistic feeders, i.e., switching prey depending on prey availability.  Small invertebrates such as rodents and lizards are the most important prey.  Large numbers of beetles, along with their larvae (even in areas where abundance is not high) are another part of this skunks diet. Hog-nosed skunks also feed upon other invertebrates such as spiders and orthopterans. Overall, invertebrates and larvae make up 73.6-85.1% of the diet.  German yellow jacket wasps are also foraged under ground (Donadio et al. 2002).

The current status of Conepatus chinga is declining throughout a major portion of their historical range in the United States.  In the Big Thicket region in eastern Texas, the subspecies Conepatus telmalestes is believed to be extinct.  A likely cause for the population decline may be due to the increased number of trappers.  Another reason suggests the increase of feral hogs that have been introduced into the area.  Feral hogs have a diverse diet that depends on the season, but they compete with the hog-nosed skunk as with other wildlife, for food when the same area is inhabited at the same time (Dragoo et al. 1999).

Remarks:

Opossums were at one time valued for their fur, which was used to make cuffs and collars for jackets and coats.  They are still trapped by some and eaten although they are not regarded as a prime source of nutrition.  They are hunted primarily in the southern U.S. at night with the aide of hounds and spotlights (Lyon 1936).

Literature Cited:

Colman, F., Neris, N., Ouelar, E., Sukigara, N., Ishii, N. 2002. Quia de mammiferos Medianos Y Grande Del Paraguay:  Katos Data Book in Larger Mammals of Paraguay. 94-95.

 

Donadio, E., Di Martino, S., Aubone, M., Novaro, A. J.  2004. Feeding Ecology of the Andean hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus chinga) in areas under different land use in north-western Patagonia.  Journal of Arid Environments  56:710-717.

 

Dragoo, J., Honyecutt, R., Schmidly, D. 2003.  Taxanomic status of white-backed hog-nosed skunks (Conepatus).  Journal of Mammology  84:159-176.

 

Gray. 1837. Walkers Mammals of the World.  6th Edition, Volume 1. John Hopkins University Press.  pp. 736-737.

 

Reference written by Lisa Gabriel, Bio 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point: Edited by Kim Moore. Page last updated December 17, 2004.

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