Southeastern Arizona is often called the “Hummingbird Capital of America” by boosters and chambers of commerce. I’m not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean, their legislature doesn’t meet here, but I suppose any recognition of biodiversity is to be celebrated. But how about recognizing the “Skunk Capital of America”? Once again ignoring the fact that America doesn’t end at the Mexican border, shouldn’t we celebrate that fully one third of the skunk species on earth occur in Cochise County? With four species of skunks (Striped, Hooded, Hog-nosed and Western Spotted) we have representatives of all genera except the odd Asian Stink Badgers (Stink Badgers? We don’t need any Stink Badgers!). In all there are thirteen members of the family Mephitidae, eleven of them in the new world, nearly 40% of them in my neighborhood.
When I studied mammalogy back in the Pleistocene, we learned that skunks were just the stinky branch of the weasel family tree, related to otters, weasels and ferrets. But in 1997, research showed genetic evidence that they were distinct and separate from the Mustelidae. Thus the family Mephitidae was born.
Over the next few months, I’ll introduce you to each of our four skunks of the southwest, but suffice it to say they each possess that special bouquet that instantly identifies a skunk to even the urban schoolchild. It is a defense so effective that skunks are practically fearless, a confidence that betrays them on the highway. My wife was on a mammology field trip where one young man announced that a skunk couldn’t spray if you grabbed it by the tail and held the tail down. He was proved wrong and rode alone back to the campus.
So celebrate the wonderful skunk. I appreciate them all (except for the ones under our house).