mofette is the common name given to mephitids (Mephitis). It can also be seen named as skunks, skunks, mapurites, epates or chingues.

It is popularly known for its ability to secrete a strong, fetid odor from its rear as a method of defense.

Close-up of a striped or striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Close-up of a striped or striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Species

The Mephitidae family is made up of 11 species of skunks. Nine of which are in the American continent. Two of these species are from Indonesia and the Philippines.

FAMILY: MEPHITIDAE

  • Gender: Conepatus (pig-nosed skunks) - 4 species present in North and South America.
  • Gender: Spilogale (spotted skunks) - 3 species found in North and Central America.
  • Gender: Mephitis (striped skunk and hooded skunk) - 2 species found in North America.
  • Gender: Mydaus (stink badgers) - 2 species found in Southeast Asia.

The best known species is the striped or striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Its coat is typically black with a white "V" on its back, and it has a white bar between the eyes, like the rare hooded skunk (M. macroura).

In the case of the hooded skunk (Genus Mephitis), the stripes are not always visible, and the white areas on the back are interspersed with black fur, giving it a gray appearance. The "hood" is the result of long hairs on the nape.

The spotted skunks (genus Spilogale) Except for a white patch between the eyes, her patches are actually a series of discontinuous stripes running down her back and sides. They are about the size of a tree squirrel and are the smallest skunks except the pygmy spotted skunk (S. pygmaea), which can fit in a person's hand.

The pig nosed skunks (genus Conepatus) may be larger than striped skunks, but Chilean and Argentine skunks are smaller. In the northern part of their range, they have a single solid white stripe starting at the top of the head that covers the tail and back. In Central and South America they have the typical "V" pattern. Hog-nosed skunks do not have markings between their eyes.

The stinky badgers (genus Mydaus) were classified as members of the Mephitidae family in the 1990s, which is why they are now considered skunks. They resemble small North American pig-nosed skunks with shorter tails. Their white stripes can be divided, simple and narrow, or absent.

Features

The skunk has a size between 40 - 70 cm in height and a weight similar to a domestic cat. Although there are skunks that fit in a person's hand.

Smell and hearing are excellent, but their vision is very poor and they can only see objects close to them.

They emit a scent that comes from the anal glands that are located inside the rectum at the base of the tail. All carnivorous animals have anal scent glands, but in the case of skunks it is incredibly developed. Each gland is assigned to a nipple with muscular capacity, which allows it to control the direction in which it expels the odor. The shot is accurate to two meters, although its range is considerably greater. The chemical composition of the odor differs between species, but sulfur compounds (thiols and thioacetates) are primarily responsible for the extreme odor.

The color of the skunk can vary between species from the typical black and white colors to gray, cream and even brown. All species are striped and even babies are born with them, regardless of their color.

Each species has characteristics adapted to the place where they live, for example, pig-nosed skunks are very skilled at digging and have powerful upper bodies, which allow them to climb rough terrain. Spotted skunks are very agile and are capable of going up and down trees like a squirrel would.

Behavior

The skunk is a solitary animal, which only come together when they are going to reproduce, with the exception of the colder areas where they gather in communal burrows to keep warm.

In most species, during the day they hide in burrows that are dug with their long front claws.

When it is chased by a predator but cannot see it, it launches the aerosol that is emitted as an atomized cloud that the predator will face and must pass through. The strong smell, in most cases, is enough to scare off predators.

Each species deals with predators differently. Hooded and striped skunks face an opponent head-on and strike their front legs, sometimes charging forward a few paces or skirting back while dragging their front legs. Hog-nosed skunks stand on their hind legs and slap their front legs against the ground while hissing loudly. Spotted skunks stand up and approach predators. Stinky badgers growl, show their teeth, and stamp their front legs. It has also been observed that they are able to simulate their death, with the anal area directed at the predator.

Two skunks together in a burrow
Two skunks together in a burrow

Habitat

The skunk inhabits a wide variety of habitats, including deserts, forests, and mountains.

Distribution

The skunk is distributed by several zones of the western hemisphere, according to the species of which we speak. It is possible to find them in: North and South America and in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and Feliponas).

The best known species is the striped or striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is found from central Canada south through the United States to northern Mexico.

The rare hooded skunk (M. macroura) of the southwestern United States.

spotted skunk (genus Spilogale) lives from southwestern Canada to Costa Rica.

The pig nosed skunks (genus Conepatus) are found in North America, Chile, and Argentina.

The stinky badgers (genus Mydaus) are found only in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Food

The skunk, in general, is an omnivorous animal but there are more carnivorous than herbivorous species. They generally feed on insects, small birds, and mammals. They also eat eggs, berries, roots, herbs, and mushrooms to supplement their diet.

Hognose skunks have elongated snouts specialized in trapping larvae and insects from the ground. Spotted skunks are the most carnivorous species.

Predators

Skunks, despite their great defense system, are eaten by horned owls, eagles, ravens, vultures, coyotes, foxes, dogs, bobcats, cougars, American badgers, and even humans.

Cars are one of the leading killers of skunks in the United States.

Reproduction

Skunks are alone until it is time to breed. It occurs in spring, with the exception of the western spotted skunk (S. gracilis) which breeds in autumn but suffers from a delayed implantation period lasting about 150 days. The eastern spotted skunks (S. putorius) breed at the same time as other skunks, resulting in both species breeding at the same time.

After mating, the male is expelled and the female burrows to give birth to her young. After a couple of months of gestation, the young are born between the end of April and the beginning of June. The female breeds between 2 - 12 young by herself.

The baby is born totally toothless and blind, the eyes do not open until they are a few weeks old. They are also unable to use their defensive spray. This ability is developed just when they open their eyes, when they are a couple of weeks old.

They will stay with their mother for a year, when they are old enough to mate by themselves.

Hatchling striped skunks
Hatchling striped skunks

State of conservation

Conservation status is uncertain among some species of skunks. Striped skunks are very common within their range, but the status of the other species is unknown. The eastern spotted skunk may be in decline throughout its range. Despite this, there are no skunks in danger of extinction.

Relationship with humans

In ancient times they were highly valued for their skins, but today the demand for this type of skin has dropped drastically. Currently, they are more valid in agriculture, since they feed on insects that affect different crops. They are also useful for hunting the rats and mice that infest farms. For this task, spotted skunks are the most efficient because they are fast and can follow their prey through smaller spaces than other larger species.

The first legislation on the protection of skunks was passed in 1894 and was born from the requests of New York hop growers.

In certain areas of North America, skunks are one of the main carriers of rabies, which is deadly to skunks. Striped skunks can be domesticated but generally don't make good pets.

With the arrival of cars, skunks are run over because they are unable to anticipate their arrival, since their vision is limited to nearby objects.

Popular culture

Skunks are present in various cultural products, such as cinema, literature, etc. One of the most famous characters is Pepe Le Pew, a cartoon character from Brother Warner.

The book Bambi's Children features a skunk named Buttercup.

List of other interesting animals