English Name: hooded skunk
Spanish Name: zorrillo-listado del sur
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Hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura)
The hooded skunk looks much like the striped, but has a ruff of fur around the neck, and a very long, lush white plume for a tail.
Skunks live in a variety of habitats from riparian canyons and wooded areas to Arizona uplands and suburbs. They prefer thick, brushy areas. None of the skunks are common in the low, dry flats.
• Diet: All the skunks are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. They eat anything from beetles, grubs, and grasshoppers to rodents, birds, carrion, seeds, and fruit.
• Behavior: Skunks snuffle around or dig in the ground, turning over rocks, logs, and debris looking for insects, lizards, bird eggs, and so on. They hunt for mice and also search for fruit.
Skunks are nocturnal creatures famous for their ability to spray a fluid so noxious that it can stop a predator in its tracks. The only major predator skunks have, aside from humans and automobiles, is the great horned owl, which has almost no sense of smell. Skunks usually have enough fluid for 5 or 6 volleys of spray, which they can shoot up to about 12 feet. Their bold black and white patterns, easily seen at night, function as aposematic (warning) coloring, advertising the skunks' malodorous capabilities.
Skunks sometimes build their own dens, but often share the dens of other animals, particularly pack rats, or make use of other suitable sites such as brush piles, hollow logs, boulder piles, mine shafts, or underneath buildings. Their dens don't smell like skunk spray, but do have a distinctive, strong, musky odor. Although they don't hibernate, skunks gain extra weight in the fall, which tides them over the lean times during the winter. They retire underground for as many as several days at a time during cold winter storms.
This skunk breeds in the spring, with most babies born in May. The three to seven kits stay with the mother through the summer, accompanying her on nocturnal hunting forays, before dispersing in the fall. Evidence of skunks in an area includes many divots in the earth and other signs of rooting, as well as scat containing berries, insect parts, and bits of fur.
The Mustelidae or weasel clan is a family known for its members' fascinating habits; it includes the badgers, skunks, otters, ferrets and weasels. In the Sonoran Desert region only the badger and the skunks are common. Both badgers and skunks are nocturnal and have plantigrade hind feet (plantigrades walk flat-footed instead of on their toes like digitigrades), giving them a distinctive waddling, shuffling gait. Four-footed plantigrades are not fast runners, but badgers and skunks have other defenses.
The badger is renowned for its power, tenacity, and irascible temperament. Few animals care to tangle with an enraged badger. One badger even attacked a tractor that inadvertently ran over its den entrance! This animal is strictly a carnivore, well adapted to digging small mammals from the ground with its 1½ inch long claws on powerful front feet. Its eyes are equipped with nictitating membranes (transparent third eyelids) to protect them from flying dirt while the badger is digging. Small, well-furred ears also keep dirt out while the badger tunnels. A badger is able to secrete a musky scent from its anal glands, but it can't spray this fluid like skunks can.
The skunks, on the other hand, are rather phlegmatic animals. They seem to be aware that they have the most daunting weapon for almost any situation, and show great forbearance. Skunks give plenty of warning of their intent to spray, stamping their feet, and in the case of the spotted skunk, even doing a handstand before spraying. Skunks evidently find their own odor offensive; a skunk is reluctant to spray if restricted from getting its tail out of the way. Due to the great diversity of habitats in the Sonoran Desert, all four species of skunks are present here.