We lead off this selection of 7 amazing skunks with the Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis), the most common North American skunk. This skunk’s expansive range encompasses almost the whole of the continental United States, extending into subarctic Canada and northern Mexico. Considering Mephitus is one of the three genera of skunks (along with Conepatus and Spilogale) in the Mephitidae family, one might say Mephitis mephitis is Top Dog er, Top Skunk based solely upon naming rights. (images at top and above via Brian Gratwicke)
* Smell-tastic Skunk Fact: Can you have a pet skunk? Yes you can, provided you live in any of the 17 U.S. states that allow it. Striped skunks are reputed to be the most social species, making them the most common skunks selected to be pets. Owners usually arrange for the surgical removal of their skunk’s scent glands. Skunks can also be kept as pets in the UK but there’s a catch: the country’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 expressly forbids ANY surgical alterations. That stinks!
The Hooded Skunk (Mephitis macroura) can be found throughout the length and breadth of Mexico, plus some areas north of the US-Mexico border. Hooded Skunks (known locally as a zorrillo) may display one of three color phases: white-backed (as seen above, festooned with cholla cactus burrs), black-backed with two lateral white stripes, or completely black with just a few white hairs in the tail. All variations feature a thin white stripe running lengthwise along the top of the black-furred head. (image above via Saguaro National Park)
* Smell-tastic Skunk Fact: The word “skunk” is believed to be an adaptation of the southern New England Algonquian word “seganku”, which itself derives from the term “to urinate”. In 1634, a chronicler quoted in Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France stated of skunks that “no sewer ever smelled so bad. I would not have believed it if I had not smelled it myself. Your heart almost fails you when you approach the animal.” Le pew, mon dieu!
Southern Spotted Skunk
The Southern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale angustifrons) ranges from south-central Mexico down through Central America north of Panama. The body is up to 13 inches long with a 9-inch long tail. This small skunk can climb trees in search of food but typically forages on the ground.
Southern Spotted Skunks (along with other Spotted Skunk species) share a curious trait – they acrobatically flip into a handstand just before letting loose with an alarmingly accurate spray! Why do they do this? For the LULZ, presumably. (image above via Heidi Donat)
Think animals have a monopoly on offensive odors? Check out Scents Of Doubt: The World’s 12 Smelliest Plants!