Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Michael R. Pelton

Committee Members

Arthur C. Echternacht, Boyd L. Dearden


This study was initiated to collect information on several aspects of skunk ecology and natural history in a campground situation. The areas of skunk ecology and behavior, den site availability, activity behavior, and foraging behavior in the Cades Cove campground, GSMNP. Data collection for the study began in June 1979 and ended in August 1980.

The skunk population within the 156 ha study area, which included the campground and picnic area, was estimated by mark-recapture at 31 ± 4 skunks; in late July and early August the skunk population temporarily increased as the juveniles became independent and were caught more frequently. The estimated resident population in the study area was higher than reported population estimates from agricultural and natural areas. The campground and picnic area appear to influence the size of the skunk population by increasing the availability of food and den sites.

Thirty-three natural dens were located during the course of this study. These dens fell into 2 groups corresponding to the seasons, summer and fall. Summer dens tended to be above ground be located on well-drained shallow soils with steep slopes. Fall dens tended to be below ground and be located on moderately to well drained soils with gentle slopes. Summer dens also had wider entrances than fall dens. Skunks switched from summer dens to fall dens by October in response to several factors: temperature, decreased food availability, physiological changes and possibly light intensity (Alesiuk and Stewart, 1962).

The drainage culverts in the campground were used as den sites by skunks from July through October. Of the 31 culverts in the campground, 20 were used as dens in 1979 and 25 were used as dens in 1980. Of the 11 culverts not used as dens in 1979, 9 were filled with water or debris and 2 were occupied by raccoons, while the 6 culverts not used as dens in 1980 were filled with debris.

Culvert dens and natural dens were not used exclusively by 1 skunk, but were used sequentially by several skunks. Five of the natural dens and all of the culvert dens were used sequentially by skunks during the study.

The daily activity patterns of striped skunks using the campground changed with season. In April and May, few skunks were observed in the campground. The number of skunks in the campground during the night increased in July and August in response to the increased availability of food and to the increased number of juveniles mature enough to accompany the females during foraging. During July and August, activity was bimodal with peaks at 2300 hrs. and 0130 hrs. The skunks observed foraging before 2400 hrs. tended to be cautious, avoiding people. By October, the number of skunks observed in the campground at night had decreased with activity being distributed throughout the night.

Several factors influencing seasonal activity were measured: cloud cover, temperature, precipitation, date, and time. Of these variables temperature accounted for the most variance in activity levels of skunks in different months. Other variables that were not measured, such as light intensity and the number of campers in the campground, may explain more of the variance.

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