What is Skunk?

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Skunk is an animal that belongs to the Mephitide family and is also commonly called the polecat. This mammal's body surface is physically covered with black and white fur and is known to reside in the Western hemisphere primarily. Moreover, this mammal is known for its extraordinary form of self-defence technique, it has extremely well-inbuilt scent glands that release an obnoxious odor to protect itself from potential or immediate danger. The term skunk is an umbrella term and refers much more to the mundane black and white striped skunk, which is scientifically called Mephitis mephitis. 

As of the current scientific research and evidence, there are a total of different skunk species accounted for. Out of the 12 known species, 9 of them are found in the Western Hemisphere. The skunk animal is predominantly nocturnal and 100% carnivores. Although they have a large mixture of habitats, they are usually found in forests, deserts, and mountains. Their sizes vary depending on their age and species, but a majority of them are the same size as a pet cat. However, some of them are considerably smaller. Did you know what is the scientific name for a skunk is? Let’s learn more about skunks, their different species and their scientific names. 


Different Species of Skunks

A skunk animal species can be differentiated from one another based on their physical characteristics or habitat. Additionally, every one of these species is named after its unique physical characteristic. As mentioned before, there are a total of 12 species of skunk but based on their physical appearance, they can be grouped into 5 types. Read below to know more.


A. Striped Skunk

Rank: species

Family: Mephitidae 

Order: Carnivora

Class: Mammalia

Scientific Name: Mephitis mephitis

The striped skunk is the most common skunk animal species found in North America. There are high chances; inhabitants may encounter them in their backyard. True to their name, they have distinct black and white markings or stripes all over their body and live in terrain parts of North America without any issue. A broad white stripe runs from the head to its tail which is how they are generally identified. This particular species is thought to be smart, considering they don't spray in confined areas or their dens. 


B. Spotted Skunk Types

Under this group, there are four types of species found and are considered the cutest species of wild skunks. However, this doesn't mean that it will hesitate to spray gas if it feels threatened. These types of skunk animals prefer to feed on insects, therefore, playing an important role in the food chain and environmentally by controlling the insect population.  Following are the four types of species that fall under this category.


1. Western Spotted Skunk

From its name, we can infer that it inhabits the western region of North America. They have creamy white and bold black stripes. In addition, there are three vertical stripes found on the hind parts and three longitudinal stripes found on both sides of the frontal part of the anatomy. 

Kingdom: Animalia

Order: Carnivora

Higher classification: spotted skunks

Rank: species

Scientific name: Spilogale gracious


2. Eastern Spotted Skunks

This species of skunks are slender and small, and as the name suggests, it resides in the eastern region of North America and can be found in a few areas of Mexico and Canada. Their physical appearance has a thick raven black fit with 5-6 scattered white patterns similar to stripes. However, it is one of the fewer skunks known to have no long hair and stripes. 

They are commonly referred to as tree skunks because they are extremely talented in climbing trees to find snakes and fruits.  A notable feature of this type of cute skunk is that it stomps around and does a handstand signalling a warning sign before they stink gas. 

Gestation period: 33 days

Kingdom: Animalia

Higher classification: spotted skunks

Rank: species

Tropical level: omnivorous

Scientific name: Spilogale putorius


3. Pygmy Spotted Skunk

This species is particularly found only in Mexico. Their body is covered with a black fur coat with unique white patterns on the forehead. There are approximately 2-4 visible white stripes seen on its sides and back. 

These nocturnal animals flee when they feel threatened. Nevertheless, it resorts to its well-known self-defence tactic and sprays an unpleasant smelling odor when circumstances are tough. 

Rank: species

Class: Mammalia

Phylum: Chordata

Family: Mephitidae

Order: Carnivora

Scientific Name: Spilogale pygmaea


4. Southern Spotted Skunk

Naturally, they are found in the southern regions of Mexico and Costa Rica. From their physical appearance, these skunks mostly look like the western spotted skunk. They typically feed on insects, eggs, fruits, small mammals, birds, and grain.

Rank: species

Class: Mammalia

Phylum: Chordata

Family: Mephitidae

Tropical level: omnivorous 

Scientific name: Spilogale angustifrons


C. Hog-Nosed Skunks

From the name, we can tell that these types of skunks have a broad nose shape that resembles that of a pig. Following are the four types of species that fall under this category.


1. Striped Hog-Nosed Skunk

As of their physical description, this species of skunk has a black coat covering its body with a distinctive white patch that begins at the back of the neck and gradually spreads into two white stripes forming a beautiful pattern. Their tail is a mix of black and white but not as bushy as the other species of skunk. They inhabit the Southern and Central regions of America. Most of them live in sparsely timbered and rocky areas. 

Rank: species

Higher classification: hog-nosed skunk

Tropical level: omnivorous

Scientific name: Conepatus semistriatus


2. American Hog-Nosed Skunk

It is also commonly known as a Western hog-nosed skunk and is native to the Northern and Central regions of America. They can grow up to 2.7 meters in length, making them the biggest of their species. Their body is devoid of any stripes. Instead, they have a single wide white thick fur coat that runs from the top of their head all the way to the base of their tail. Their underside is completely covered with black fur, and they are found in stream sites, canyons, and rocky areas.

Gestation period: 61 days

Trophic level: omnivorous

Length: 17 inches (adult)

Mass: 4.2 lbs (adult)

Scientific name: Conepatus leuconotus 

Rank: species


3. Humboldt's Hog-Nosed Skunk

It is also commonly referred to as the Patagonian hog-nosed skunk because they are known to live in the Patagonian areas of South Argentina. This species has a distinctive brownish-red fur contrasting the mundane white and black fur found in other skunk species. They have two perfectly symmetrical stripes on the sides, which extend to the end of the tail. Naturally, they have the signature hog-shaped nose and long, pointy claws for hunting their food, for example, crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles.

Rank: species

Length: 14 inches (adult)

Trophic level: carnivorous

Mass: 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Scientific name: Conepatus humboldtii


4. Molina's Hog-Nosed Skunk

This species is one of the cutest skunks in the animal kingdom. They have thick black fur covering their body and two bold white stripes that start at the top of their head and spread to the sides, ultimately joining in making the tail white. It also has scattered white markings all over the body and, of course, a  pink, fleshy nose. These cute little skunks mostly live in Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, northern Argentina, southern Brazil, Peru, middle to southern South America, and Uruguay. 

Rank: species

Higher classification: hog-nosed skunk

Mass: 7.5 lbs (Adult)

Scientific name: Conepatus chinga


D. Stink Badgers

Despite the name, these species are skunks. Following are the two types of skunk species that fall under this category.


1. Palawan Stink Badger

They are also locally known as pantot, and this name is coined due to their badger-like resemblance. It is indigenous to the Palawan islands. They have a pointed snout and a short tail. The fur is dark brown instead of black. Additionally, it also has a light yellow patch on its head that eventually fades down to the shoulders forming a stripe. This nocturnal patient is always in a defensive mode. It will attack and spray a foul-smelling liquid at the first opportunity it gets, so beware. It’s widely known for this skunk behaviour.

Rank: species

Higher classification: stink badger

Length: 15 inches (Adult)

Mass: 5.5 lbs (Adult)

Scientific name: Mydaus marchei


2. Sunda Stink Badger

Sunda stink badger, typically known as the Javan stink badger, Malay badger, teledu, Sunda skunk, Malay stink badger, and Indonesian stink badger, nocturnal mammal endemic to Malaysia and Indonesia.

They have a rather coarse fur that is either dark brown or black, which covers the entire body. They also have a single thick white stripe that starts at the top of the head and ends at their short tail. Their tail resembles a cute ball of white fur. Along with the skunk spray defense mechanism, these skunks also pretend to play dead when they feel threatened. They resort to stinking gas only during the worst-case scenarios. 

Rank: species

Length: 17 inches (Adult)

Trophic level: omnivorous 

Mass: 5.5 lbs (adult)

Scientific name: Mydaus javanensis 


E. Hooded Skunks

This nocturnal furry animal gets its name from the snow-white cape sort of fur covering its head and neck area. Some of these skunks are completely black except for the white hood and white markings on the tail. Other hooded skunks have a single white broad dorsal stripe. Their tails are comparatively longer and their fur is much softer than the striped skunks. They are also called the southern skunk, white-sided skunk, and long-tailed Mexican skunk. They reside in the regions southwestern areas of America to Costa Rica parts of Central America. Hooded skunks are highly adaptable. As for the skunk behaviour, they can survive in various habitats, from plateaus, dry lowlands to rocky canyons and riparian zones. 

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Family: Mephitidae

Rank: Species

Higher classification: Mephitis

Scientific name: Mephitis macroura 


Skunk Spray

The foul odor released during the skunk spray comes from the anal glands, located at the base of the tail, inside the rectum. Similar to all carnivores, skunks have anal scent glands too. However, skunk glands are exceptionally developed. Both the glands have a nipple which is associated with it, and skunks can accordingly aim and spray with high precision due to their strong and well-coordinated muscle power.  

In cases where the skunk is being chased but is unable to locate its predator, the skunk emits the spray in the form of an atomized cloud making the predator run through it. This technique usually throws them off their scent and ensures the skunk is safe. 

Furthermore, if the skunk can see the predator and has a specific target to focus on, it directs the spray to the predator's face. The accuracy of this range varies from 2 meters and more.

As mentioned above, not all species of skunk directly spray at the sense of threat. Instead, most of them go through a series of other techniques and even face the threat head-on if need be. Only when they don't have an option, they turn to their signature defense mechanism. Therefore, skunk behaviour changes from species to species. 


Conclusion

Skunks are a very important species for the survival of mankind. They maintain ecological and environmental balance. Skunk pelts, especially striped skunks, are a valuable commodity in the fur industry. It is sad to see hunters and other industries killing skunks for their own selfish needs. It's time to ban their hunting and stop using fur.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. When Do They Start Breeding?

Ans: The breeding season for skunks happens in spring for all species except the western spotted skunk. They breed during the autumn season and undergo a delayed implantation period of 150 days. For other species, babies are born from April end to the starting of June. The male usually wanders off after the mating process. The female gives birth to litter (2-12 offspring) and raises them alone.

2. What Laws are Passed to Protect Skunks?

Ans: The initial legislation for the safety of skunks was passed in 1895. Since then many other rules and regulations have been formed for their protection.

3.  How to Tell The Difference Between an Eastern and Western Spotted Skunk?

Ans: The western spotted skunks have much thicker and apparent white fur than the eastern ones. They stomp, charge, hiss raise their tails before aiming to spray. Different Species