Controversies Over Skunk ClassificationHistorically, 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 TreeAn 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.