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April showers bring May mustelids!

The Striped Polecat (Ictonyx striatus) is not a skunk,even though it has similar markings (skunks are actually a different family). Striped Polecats can be found throughout Africa, from sub-Sahara to the central and southern part of the continent. Somewhat confusingly, the Striped Polecat is also known as the African skunk, the Cape polecat, the African polecat, and zorilla (which is derived from zorro, the Spanish word for fox).


Adult Striped Polecats can grow up to 28 inches (70 cm) from tip to tail, and weigh approximately 3 pounds (1.3 kg). Males are generally larger than females, but sexual dimorphism is not really pronounced. Their coats are usually black or dark brown, with four white stripes running down the length of their backs and into their tails. Striped Polecats have long sharp claws on their front feet, which they use to climb trees and dig in the dirt.

The diet of the Striped Polecat varies depending on its specific range, but they are carnivores. Unlike other kinds of mustelids, they avoid eating any kind of plant and focus their attention on small rodents and hares. They also include birds, eggs, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Striped Polecats like to hang around herds of wild and domestic herbivores, because the short grass and piles of dung provide a lot of places for rodents and beetles to thrive.


Striped Polecats are solitary creatures and generally don’t spend much time in each other’s company except for the purposes of mating. Females will live in small family groups with their offspring before they grow old enough to head out and establish their own territories. After a gestation period of four weeks, female Striped Polecats will give birth to a litter of one to four kits. The kits are weaned at about 18 weeks.


Striped Polecats are nocturnal animals, preferring to do all of their foraging at night. While they climb trees and are capable of swimming, they spend most of their lives on the ground. They will dig burrows and sometimes will bury themselves under leaves and twigs. When Striped Polecats are threatened, they will warn their botherers off with escalating vocalizations. If their attacker doesn’t back off, the Striped Polecat will turn and squirt foul-smelling scent from their anal glands (again, technically NOT a skunk).


Source for all images used in this post.

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