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Posts Tagged ‘stink badger’

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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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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