The zorrilla (Ictonyx striatus), also known as the striped polecat, is a single species in the Mustelidae family of badgers, otters and weasels. Skunks used to be included as a sub-family of this family as well, but analysis of molecular evidence led taxonomists to place them in their own separate family. Today, 13 species of skunks and stink badgers make up the Mephitidae family.
Geographic Range and Habitat
The three genera of skunks live exclusively in North, Central and South America. Stink badgers, the fourth genus in the Mephitidae family, live in southeast Asia. Skunks occupy a variety of habitats, although they tend to avoid denser forests. Zorrillas, in contrast, live exclusively on the African continent. Like skunks, they adapt to almost any habitat and can be found in deserts, forests, savannas and wetlands. Due in part to the ability of both zorrillas and skunks to thrive in nearly any habitat, none of the species is considered endangered or threatened.
Both striped polecats and skunks have coarse black fur with white spots and stripes. While their black-and-white coloration is distinctive, different skunk species have different sets of markings. Striped polecats have spots on their faces and four bold stripes running down their bodies and to the tips of their tails. These thick-bodied animals all have long tails, short limbs and long claws adapted for digging in the dirt. Adult zorrillas' bodies are about a foot long, making them about the same size as spotted skunks, the smallest species of skunk. Hog-nosed skunks are the largest skunks, growing to approximately four times the size of spotted skunks.
Diet and Eating Habits
Skunks are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders that will eat nearly anything edible they find while foraging. They consume plants as well as insects, snakes, birds and rodents. Zorrillas, in contrast, are carnivores and avoid eating plant matter. Like other weasel species, they hunt rodents, frogs, lizards and snakes. Striped polecats also prey on birds and their eggs. Both zorrillas and skunks frequently use their long claws to dig in the earth and find burrowing animals and insects to eat.
Both zorrillas and skunks are nocturnal. Skunks spend the day in burrows they dig themselves or find abandoned. Polecats occasionally dig burrows, but more often sleep their days away in hollow trees or rock crevices. Skunks and zorrillas both defend themselves by spraying a sticky, foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands. The pungent odor of this spray keeps predators at bay, and their striped coats serve as a warning that spray is imminent if they are attacked. Although skunks' spray is infamous for its horrible smell, zorrillas' spray may be stronger -- they are widely considered the world's smelliest animals.
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Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.