There are so many different living creatures in the world that scientists need to classify them to keep them organized for study. The system of Linnaean taxonomy consists of different hierarchies in which each living thing can fit, with the kingdom being the most general and species being most specific. This helps scientists recognize which animals are related to one another and how.
Taxonomy and scientific classification are important because animals that seem to have traits in common may not be related to one another at all, or at least less closely than previously thought. For example, skunks may have traits in common with rodents such as rats or mice. Both skunks and rodents are omnivorous, and rodents such as mice and rats are nocturnal, just as skunks are. However, the similarities between them are mostly superficial. Essentially, skunks and rodents are more different than they are alike.
Controversies Over Skunk Classification
Historically, classifying skunks has been difficult. In fact, scientists still disagree about where exactly they belong. Skunks have quite a bit in common with weasels, more so than they do with rodents. Therefore, they have traditionally been included as part of the Mustelidae family along with weasel relatives, such as otters, ferrets, minks, badgers, and wolverines.
However, not everyone agrees that skunks have enough in common with weasels to be included as a subfamily of Mustelidae. These experts put skunks in a family all their own. This family is called Mephitidae, which literally translates to “bad smell” or “stink.”
Branches of the Skunk Family Tree
An animal’s genus is the next most narrow category after family or subfamily according to the taxonomic classification. There are four genii included in the family or subfamily Mephitidae, three of which contain skunks found in North America:
- Genus Spilogale contains spotted skunks. Their spots follow the stripe patterns found on other skunks but are interrupted to give a more mottled appearance. Spotted skunks can climb trees and do a handstand to warn potential enemies that they are about to spray.
- Genus Conepatus contains hog-nosed skunks. Its long snout makes it easier for the hog-nosed skunk to root around while foraging for food. Hog-nosed skunks are more carnivorous than other species, and they are beneficial for farmers because they feed on pests such as rodents and insects that can harm crops.
- Genus Mephitis contains the striped skunk, which is the species most people think of when they hear the word. It also contains the hooded skunk, which looks very similar to its closest cousin but has a solid white hood covering its head and back rather than stripes and fur that is longer and softer.
Distant Relatives of North American Skunks
At one point, it was thought that skunks were confined to North and South America. Through ongoing research, scientists determined that Asian stink badgers were more closely related to skunks than they were to the badger subfamily into which they had been classified originally. Therefore, the stink badgers have been reclassified as a fourth genus of the Mephitidae family. Genus Mydaus includes two different species of stink badger: the Mydaus marchei or Palawan stink badger, and the Teledu, which goes by the scientific name Mydaus javanensis and is also known as the Sunda stink badger or the Javan stink badger.
Living Alongside Skunks
If you find skunks in or around your home, you should call for skunk removal right away. It is not good for either skunks or people to live in close proximity to one another. At the same time, there is generally no need to be afraid of skunks either. They are not aggressive creatures and prefer to run away from danger when possible rather than spray or bite.
Skunk removal is only part of the wildlife control in Madison offered by Skedaddle. Find out more about all our services.