Earth Notes: Hog-Nosed Skunks

Aug 9, 2017

One evening in 2012, a river runner in Grand Canyon National Park encountered an odd-looking skunk. It had a large, pig-like nose pad for rooting, a broad white stripe from head to tail, and powerful front limbs. 

Hog-nosed skunk
Credit Brandon Holton/NPS

She showed a picture of it to park wildlife biologist Brandon Holton, who identified it as the western hog-nosed skunk. It’s a species common in Mexico and Central America, and that lived historically in southern Arizona and up to Colorado. But it had never been found in the canyon before.

Holton installed 24 cameras along 60 miles of the Colorado River corridor. During the course of a year, the cameras revealed a breeding population of hog-nosed skunks along both sides of 55 miles of the river. This information suggests these skunks may have been living in Grand Canyon for several years and were overlooked.

Sometimes called the rooter or digger skunk, the hog-nosed uses its strong forelimbs to dig up and scarf down beetles, grubs, worms, and other bugs that live in the soil. In the canyon they like to dig around the roots of tamarisk trees that harbor ground-dwelling insects. It’s also possible that with fewer floods along the Colorado since Glen Canyon Dam was built, streamside vegetation is now more attractive to them.  

Holton plans to collect samples of the skunk’s droppings for DNA analysis, which could help pinpoint where these skunks came from.