I was talking to a friend today, and somehow we got on the topic of skunks. I asked if she had ever seen a Spotted Skunk, ans she hadn't. We had both the spotted and striped varieties in the part of Texas where I lived for a number of years. The spotted ones were of interest because when feeling alarmed they will run for considerable distances on their front feet.
The genus Spilogale includes all skunks commonly known as spotted skunks and is composed of four different species: S. gracilis, S. putorius, S. pygmaea, S. angustifrons. Mammalogists consider S. gracilis and S. putorius different species because of differences in reproductive patterns, reproductive morphology, and chromosomal variation. However, interbreeding has never been falsified. The name Spilogale comes from the Greek word spilo, which means "spotted", and gale, which means "weasel".
Putorius is the Latin word for "fetid odor". Gracilis is the Latin word for "slender". Several other names attributed to S. putorius include: civet cat, polecat, hydrophobian skunk, phoby skunk, phoby cat, tree skunk, weasel skunk, black marten, little spotted skunk, four-lined skunk, four-striped skunk, and sachet kitty.
|What I didn't know is that they also come in brown! Photo taken by The Skunk Stripe at the San Bernardino County Museum|
This skunk will climb trees to flee predators. Its black and white coloration warns predators to stay away. If the warning is ignored, a spotted skunk will lower its head, stamp its front feet and assume a “handstand” position. At this point, it raises its tail and accurately sprays a foul smelling fluid up to 20 feet! To do so, it uses the two anal glands at the base of its tail that are filled with musk. When it sprays, it squeezes the anal glands together and emits the musk through its anal opening. Spotted skunks are nocturnal animals and sleep during the day. Their home range is about 150 acres. They are generally solitary but will share a den with other skunks in the winter.
|They also come in all black, all white, and gray varieties.|
There is no one size for skunks. They can vary in size from the Spotted Skunk that can be the size of a squirrel all the way up to the Hog-nosed Skunk, which can be the size of a small lap dog. Most skunks sport the almost universally recognized pattern of a black body with white stripes. The exact strip pattern can vary with each individual animal, and contrary to folklore it can't be used to determine the skunks gender. Less commonly known is that they can occasionally have a brown body and white stripes or a grey body and white stripes. Some may even be completely white, without being an albino, or a solid black. Unlike most small animals that try to blend with their surroundings to avoid predators, skunks want to be seen. Much like the bright colors of poison dart frogs in the Amazon rain forest, skunks deliberately standout to warn other animals to stay away.
A short BBC film about defensive skunk behavior.
Striped skunks - above: adult, below: a baby
And of course, Flower, the skunk from Walt Disney's "Bambi."
And while we're at it...