Skunks are members of the Mephitidae family. The name Mephitidae is a derivative of the Latin word for "bad smell." Until recently, skunks had been classified as a sub-family of the Mustelidae family. In 1997, Jerry Dragoo, with the help of Rodney Honeycutt, proved skunks were genetically very different from the other members of the Mustelidae family and belong in a distinct family.

Skunk in front
Image Source: Kevin Collins.

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Biologists have identified 12 different species of skunk. They are the Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). This is the most common species and what most people mean when they think of a skunk. The Hooded Skunk (Mephitis macroura). The Hog-nosed Skunks (Conepatus chinga, Conepatus humboldtii, Conepatus leuconotus, and Conepatus semistriatus). The Spotted Skunks (Spilogale angustifrons, Spilogale gracilis, Spilogale putorius, and Spilogale pygmaea). Though interestingly, they aren't really spotted. What appear to be spots are actually broken stripes. And last, but certainly not least, the Stink Badgers (Mydaus javanensis and Mydaus marchei). Long regarded as members of the badger family, it has recently been proved genetically that they are actually a relative of the skunks.

Skunk in a field
Image Source (for skunk only): HAM guy / Dan.

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One animal that was not included in the Mephitidae family was the African Zorilla. Referred to by many early scientists as the African Stripped Skunk, the African Zorilla was often classified as a skunk. Though it bears some similarity in appearance and method of defense, the Zorilla is a member of the weasel family.

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