When I was a little boy, my grandmother once told me that one of her childhood dogs killed a civet cat. I was old enough to know that civets lived in Africa and Asia, so when I got the chance, I asked my dad if grandma had ever been to Africa. He said “No.” And the whole discussion ended.
I always wondered what grandma was talking about.
When I first started this blog, I was a little confused about the existence of spotted skunks in West Virginia. I asked if anyone had seen a spotted skunk in West Virginia, and of course, I got no response.
But it turns out there are some. It turns out that they are found only in the High Alleghenies, where the snow falls hard every winter.
This perplexed me. I had always thought of Eastern spotted skunks as being a more or less “Southern” species, and although I often saw range maps of the species that included almost the entire state, I had never knew anyone who had seen one.
But maybe I did.
It turns out that one of the vernacular names for the spotted skunk is “civet cat.”
And that’s when the little anecdote my grandmother told me made a bit more sense. Her childhood dog had killed a “civet cat,” but it had most likely killed a spotted skunk.
As for that broad range map I linked to earlier, I think the reason the range appears to be so truncated now is that the spotted skunk was reviled in much of its range as a vector of rabies. Another common vernacular name for spotted skunk is “phoby cat”– “phoby” is short for “hyrdophobia” (often “hydrophoby” in some dialects)– it is very likely that there was massive persecution of spotted skunks in the lower elevations of the state.
It was just too hard to settle and farm in the higher mountains, and those mountains provided some sort of refuge for what is really a more subtropical species than one would typically find in such snowy country.
My grandmother’s childhood dog likely killed one of the few spotted skunks left in the lower elevations of West Virginia.
But I liked to pretend that she had gone to Africa.
Boyhood flights of fancy are tough to beat.