Saturday, May 31, 2014

Creature Feature: Zorilla.

You've all heard something like this before: "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck." If something has all the makings of something you know, it probably is something you know. That's usually pretty good advice to follow. 

The problem is, nature loves trolling us. There are nonpoisonous snakes that look like poisonous ones, spiders that look almost exactly like flowers, and hell, even butterflies that are really good at looking like dead leaves. 

And then there are furry little animals that look like skunks and stink like skunks, but aren't really skunks: 

This is a zorilla (Ictonyx striatus). It's a polecat (mustelid, similar to a ferret) native to most of Africa. It eats birds, rodents, eggs, lizards, and pretty much any running thing it can sink its pointy little teeth into. They can kill after only nine weeks of being in the world. For those of you who know Spanish, we realize zorillas look almost nothing like "little foxes" and almost everything like skunks. 

Even though it's related to skunks about as much as sea otters are, the zorilla is a really, really good example of convergent evolution. Those black and white stripes warn of the exact same thing a skunk is known for: its stench. A zorilla will turn buttward before firing, so you've got fair warning. The musk is supposedly less pungent than the musk of a skunk; haven't gotten to try this one personally, sorry. Other people claim that its scent can be smelled up to half a mile away, making it the world's smelliest animal. Still, it's not a coincidence that the zorilla looks like a skunk mixed with a Petco ferret; striking markings aren't a good sign. 

(No word on whether these guys make good pets or not, by the way.) 

Zorillas are also very communicative animals. Along with turning their tails towards you before spraying, they will growl and scream before firing. Baby zorillas even have different cries for when mommy is there or not. It doesn't sound as complex as bird song, but still very neat. 

The zorilla may not really be a skunk, but it does a darn good job posing as one. Hell, skunks aren't even in the same area, and the zorilla does the same thing. It's got its work cut out for it. So, umm, even though it's not really a skunk, can't we just call it even and treat it like one, anyways?