Posts Tagged ‘skunk’

Almost black skunk

This is a striped skunk smelling some sardine oil.  Striped skunks vary greatly on how extensive their white stripes actually are.  This one just has some white on its head.

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sunda stink badger

We North Americans know all about skunks. We know what they smell like, and we know when one has been hit on the highway before we drive past its flattened corpse.

But we really don’t know that much about them. For one thing, we’ve always assumed that skunks were like an offshoot of the Old Wold polecats. The zorilla or striped polecat of Sub-Saharan Africa looks a lot like a spotted skunk. It’s also quite well-known for having projectile anal glands that are used in exactly the same way skunks do.

Because of their similarity to these polecats, we’ve always just assumed skunks were mustelids (weasels, otters, polecat, mink, stoats, and wolverines).

That was until Jerry Dragoo and a team of researchers looked at skunk DNA and compared it to other caniform canivorans.

It turns out that the skunks of the Americas are most closely related to two very esoteric species of “stink badger.” One of these is the Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis) of Indonesia and the Philippine or Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei), which is found on Palawan, Busuanga, and Calauit.

The animal in the photo above is a Sunda stink badger. It’s so obvious that this is a skunk that it amazes me that the connection was not made sooner. It looks a lot like a hog-nosed skunk with a docked tail!

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On the trail camera this week, I got two interesting animals:

An alien black cat:


And a striped skunk:


This is the first skunk I’ve been able to get on the trail camera, which adds one more carnivoran family to the list.

No. Skunks aren’t Mustelids anymore. Their family is Mephitidae, This family includes two Southeast Asian “stink badgers” and all the skunks of North and South America.

The most common species of skunk in West Virginia is the striped skunk, but in the very high Alleghenies there is a relict population of Eastern spotted skunks.  Eastern spotted skunks are thought of as a “Southern” species, but in West Virginia, they are found only in the colder High Alleghenies.

I just hope that black cat stays away from white paint.

There are plenty of Pepe Le Pew cartoons that tell you what happens when a black cat gets a white stripe painted on it!

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chihuahua vs skunks

This photo, which was obviously staged, appears in Harold Elmer Anthony’s Mammals of America (1917).

The dog’s breed is listed as an “Irish terrier,”  but it looks like no Irish terrier I’ve ever heard of.

It looks a lot more like a Chihuahua, and it might be an early American Chihuahua.


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From Hunter-Trader-Trapper (1902):

I am very much interested in the domestication and cultivation of the’ opossum and skunk, especially the latter. Mankind is rapidly pre-empting the inhabited territory of the world and the domain of wild animals have rapidly become extinct and many more are rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth. Hunters and trappers are penetrating the wildest and most forbidding parts of the earth in quest of furs, while farmers and boys all over the country are robbing the skunk and opossum of their furry coats that “our fair lady” may have warm neckwear. Very few people have any idea of the immense amount of this “second hand” clothing there is worn thruout the world. It is my opinion that furs in the future will rapidly become scarcer and therefore higher. Carnivorous animals have a natural antipathy for man and can rarely be domesticated. The skunk and opossum are carnivorous to a certain extent but will eat a great variety of foods. The opossum is a great vegetarian and will eat all kinds of fruit. The skunk is a dear lover of sweet corn, sweet potatoes, bread, melons, etc. The fact is these animals are easily kept and are also easily tamed, especially the skunk. The skunk is as easily cared for as the ferret, and there is a ready market lor his fur, while to sell the ferret you must advertise for a buyer. The skunk is one of the three animals of the world that furnishes a naturally black fur. The black house-cat and the black bear are the other two [LOL, Great naturalist there!]. This is one secret of the great value set on the fur of the black skunk. I do not think the cultivation of skunks will ever be overdone. I would very much like to read the experience of others who have tried or who are trying the project of raising these animals. I made my third shipment of furs for this season Feb. 7, 1903. It consisted of 15 skunk, 15 muskrat, 17 opossum, 3 mink and 2 house-cats. My check for above was a beautiful little piece of paper worth $31.45. This puts me near the $100 mark for this year. I have on hand about $15 worth of furs since I shipped. I expect to make about two more shipments this year.

Lee S. Dick

I’d like to know where he got the info on black fur. Um, in case you didn’t know, it’s bit wrong.

But apparently at one time, there was a great market for cat fur!

I don’t know what became of this domestication attempt. I know that striped skunks can breed in captivity, and they come in several fur farm color morphs. Some states that allow pet skunks require that one be of one of these morphs, just so that the authorities know for certain that any pet skunk is captive-bred.

I don’t think opossums have ever been propagated in this fashion. I’ve never heard of an opossum fur farm– probably because the fur itself never was all that valuable.

My guess is Mr. Dick’s venture didn’t go very far. Even if skunks are easy to breed in captivity, they have to be descented, which is a cost that exists across an entire breeding operation. I know that ferrets normally are, but I don’t think descented ferrets necessarily had to make up the bulk of the early domesticated population. With striped skunks, one would have to descent them. It’s just too much of a hazard to deal with an animal that squirt nastiness into your eyes every time it gets a little miffed.


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With golden retrievers– and most dogs– it takes one encounter like this to break them of harrying skunks.

However, the great golden boxer had a penchant for throttling skunks. Consequences be damned.

There are always a few dogs that don’t mind being skunked, and my grandpa had a Norwegian elkhound/collie cross that would do the same thing.

For those who have not smelled it before, I cannot fully describe the odor that comes from a skunk’s glands. It is of a very entirely quality when you drive past a dead skunk along the highway than when you get the actual substance on you.

Thanks to the skunk-killing golden boxer, I actually know what that stuff smells like when it hits your body. The smell is something you just simply cannot imagine until you experience it. And your nose will run and your eyes will water.

Most dogs can’t stand that treatment. One projectile spray of that stuff in the face, and they’ll never do it again.

But it never stops some dogs.

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Yesterday, this blog got nearly 500 hits from the search term “zorilla.”

I had only mentioned this species on a post in which I revealed the identity of a spotted skunk’s skeleton. I also explained the origin of the term “polecat” for skunks, which comes from a misunderstanding that zorillas and skunks are close relatives. Zorillas are also called “striped polecats,” but as we now know, skunks and stink badgers are in their own family, Mephitidae. Zorillas and other polecats are in the family Mustelidae, which includes otters, mink, true badgers, weasels, wolverines, martens, stoats, fishers, and tayras. Most mustelids do have the anal glands that can produce the strong odor that we associate with skunks, and the zorilla has particularly potent scent glands. But that still does not make them skunks.

The reason why I posted the information above is that a zorilla appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Jack Hanna was the guest, and as anyone who has seen him on television knows, he brings out zoo animals and talks about them.

When I did a Google search on zorillas, I found that many people reporting on Jack Hanna’s presentation were calling the zorilla an African skunk. I wondered if Jack Hanna got something wrong, so I looked for the clip. When I found it, it turns out that it was Dave Letterman who calls it a skunk, but Jack Hanna clearly says that it is “like a ferret.” Hanna didn’t get a much of a chance to talk about the animal, because he was too busy putting it in Letterman’s shirt and then saying that it was the smelliest animal in the world. Nice gag, but I think the viewing public misunderstood what a zorilla is.

Here’s the clip:


Zorillas are not skunks at all.

They are a really good example of parallel evolution. Both of these animals share a common ancestor in the order Carnivora, in the suborder Caniformia, and the superfamily Musteloidea. However, both zorillas and skunks developed very strong anal secretions and the black and white “warning” color pattern independently of each other. No other Musteloids have this coloration.

I’ll say it one more time: Zorillas are not not skunks.

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Camera trap codger got this one right.

It is a skunk.

More specifically, it is a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). It could have been a hooded skunk, which is a close relative of the striped skunk that is found in the Southwest.

The reason why I queried Shadygrove about the civet is that spotted skunks (and there are three species in the genus Spilogale) are sometimes called “civet cats.”

Skunks aren’t related to civets. Civets are feliform Carnivores that are most closely related to hyenas. The Feliformia include cats, civets, hyenas, mongooses, and the other things that were considered mongooses or civets but have since been put in their own families.

Skunks are Caniformia. These Carnivores include Mustelids (weasels, otters, ferrets, mink, martens, badgers, and the wolverine), bears, raccoons, dogs, seals, sea lions, and the walrus. It also includes the red panda, which is now in its own family called Ailuridae.

Mustelids, Procyonids (raccoons and their relations), and skunks for a superfamily within the suborder Caniformia called Musteloidea. This superfamily may also include the red panda, but it is not exactly clear where that animal belongs.

Skunks were originally classified with the Mustelid family. After all, both Mustelids and skunks produce a secretion from their anal glands that is absolutely noxious. However, skunks have much more developed glands, which they can aim at a potential enemy.

Thanks to an examination of the DNA of these species, we now recognize that skunks are in their own family called Mephitidae.


I’ve been looking into the origin of the term “polecat” for the striped skunk.

It turns out that there are two species of “polecat”  native to Africa. They are not actually polecats, but they are in the Mustelid family.

One of these is called the zorilla.

This is a zorilla:

It looks a lot like a spotted skunk.

These animals are not closely related.

But because they look similar, it doesn’t take a genius to see what happened with their nomenclature.

Darwin referred to the three species of hog-nosed skunks as “zorrillos.”

It was assumed that these animals were related to the African striped “polecats,” and the term polecat became synonymous with the American skunks.

When I first learned what a real polecat was, I was shocked that anyone would call a skunk a polecat. A polecat is a wild European ferret. It’s not like a skunk at all.

I didn’t know about the striped polecats of Africa.


While these striped polecats are not an Old World species of skunk, there are Old World members of Mephitidae .

They are not called skunks.

They are called “stink badgers” (Genus Mydaus).  They both look like skunks with docked tails.

One species lives on Palawan and Busuanga in the Philippines. It is called the Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei).

The other is found on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is called the Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis).

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Another sign of spring


Skunk mating season is another sure sign that spring isn’t that far away.

I’ve noticed that the stench of skunk is now quite common along the highways. During the mating season, the skunks are much more excitable, and they are much more likely to spray at this time.

They are also on the move much more than normal, which means that they are much more likely to be hit by cars.

As I’ve traveled down some rural roads this week, I’ve the skunk odor has filled the air, and I’ve actually seen the skunks that have been hit by cars.

The skunk has a gestation period of 66 days, so the young will be born in early May.

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