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8 Fascinating Skunk Species

Skunks are known for their distinctive black and white coloring and pungent sulfuric spray. While those traits are fairly standard across the family Mephitidae, the 12 species of mephitids can vary greatly — even in appearance. They are divided into four genera: Conepatus (hog-nosed skunks), Mephitis (skunks), Spilogale (spotted skunks), and Mydaus (stink badgers), although stink badgers are technically classified as true badgers. Skunks are mostly present throughout the Western Hemisphere only and prefer a range of habitats, from forest edges to woodlands, grasslands, and deserts.

These eight types of skunk demonstrate the largely misunderstood animal’s vast interspecies variation.

Hooded Skunk

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Though the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura, belonging to the genera Mephitis) looks similar to the more widely distributed striped skunk, it can be told apart by its ruff — hence the “hood” in its name — made of long hairs on the back of its head and neck. It is the most abundant species in Oaxaca, Mexico, and can be found all around the southwestern U.S. and Central America. It’s also slightly smaller than the striped skunk, ranging from 20 to 30 inches in length compared with the latter’s 25- to 50-inch length.

Eastern Spotted Skunk

Skunks are famous for the thick, white stripe most have along their backs, but some species bear spots instead. The eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) — belonging to the genera Spilogale — is one such skunk variety. In addition to their namesake markings, these skunks, found in the eastern U.S., differ from striped skunks in that they lift themselves into an impressive handstand position before they spray.

American Hog-Nosed Skunk

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Native to southern North America and northern Central America, the American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) is the most widely distributed of the four species in the Conepatus genera, found from Texas to Nicaragua. It’s the only hog-nosed skunk with a broad, white stripe down its back and the only skunk that lacks a white dot or medial bar between its eyes.

Humboldt’s Hog-Nosed Skunk

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Also known as the Patagonian hog-nosed skunk because it’s indigenous to the Patagonian grasslands of South America, Humboldt’s hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus humboldtii) of the Conepatus genera can be brown instead of black and has one or two symmetric stripes down its back. Because of this, Humboldt’s hog-nosed skunk was highly coveted for its pelt in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s now protected, but still used in the pet trade.

Striped Skunk

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), belonging to the the genera Mephitis, is likely the species that first comes to mind when you think about a black-and-white, spraying mammal. It’s the one that occurs most from Mexico to Canada and is commonly spotted as it adapts well to human-modified environments. In addition to being the most abundant, the striped skunk is also the largest, sometimes growing up to 32 inches long.

Molina’s Hog-Nosed Skunk

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Molina’s hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus chinga) can be found from Chile to Brazil throughout mid- and southern South America, where pit vipers — a common predator — also live. Because of this, the skunk species has developed a resistance to their venom. They can be told apart from other skunks by their thin white stripes and like others in the genera Conepatus, they have elongated, fleshy noses used for locating rodents, small reptiles, and eggs.

Pygmy Spotted Skunk

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The pygmy spotted skunk (Spilogale pygmaea) — endemic to Mexico and belonging to the genera Spilogale— is the smallest of all skunk species, growing to be only 7 to 18 inches in length, and also the most carnivorous, living on spiders, birds, reptiles, small mammals, and eggs. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. Its decreasing population is a result of residential and commercial development, hunting and trapping, and disease.

Striped Hog-Nosed Skunk

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The striped hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus semistriatus), of the genera Conepatus, is a generalist species, meaning it can use different resources to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions. Though technically considered neotropical, it can survive in dry forest scrub and rainforest alike, from Mexico to Peru. It does, however, tend to avoid hot desert environments.

All skunks spray, but besides that one defining feature, species of skunk can vary quite a bit. These eight showcase the diversity of mephitids.