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What Is a Zorrilla?

A zorrilla, often mistaken for a skunk, is a fascinating creature native to Africa. It's known for its striking black and white stripes and potent defensive spray. This elusive mustelid leads a solitary life, primarily nocturnal, and thrives in varied habitats. Intrigued by nature's unique adaptations? Discover how the zorrilla's traits ensure its survival in the wild.
Nicole Etolen
Nicole Etolen

A zorrilla, more commonly known as a striped polecat, is a close relative of the African weasel, and is considered one of the worst smelling creatures in the animal kingdom. It is larger than its relatives, reaching up to 14 inches (about 32 cm) long as an adult and weighing up to 2.2 pounds (1 kg). The animal also has longer coat hairs than the African weasel, and is identified by its characteristic three white dots on the head, with one in the center and one above each eye. It strongly resembles the American Skunk.

The zorrilla lives throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the forest, woodland areas, and most of Somalia. It prefers cool, well-grazed grasslands and follows an established path when hunting for food or traveling. It is a nocturnal animal, meaning it sleeps during the day and comes out at night to hunt for food. Its diet consists primarily of small animals, such as snakes, lizards, spiders and insects. The shape of the snout on the zorrilla is ideal for pushing into soft soil to search for invertebrates.

The zorilla is native to Somalia.
The zorilla is native to Somalia.

Aside from during mating time, the zorrilla is a solitary animal. Mating season begins in the spring and ends in early summer. The female breeds once per season, with a typical litter consisting of up to three babies. The gestation period lasts 36 days, and the female remains with her young until they are fully grown, or about 20 weeks. When not mating, the male and female zorrillas rarely interact, although it is not known if the males are territorial.

Until January 17, 2011, the zorrilla was a relatively unknown animal in the media. On that night, American zookeeper Jack Hanna brought the animal onto a late-night talk show, claiming it was the only one in the United States. He also claimed that it was the worst smelling animal in the world. The zorrilla gets its name from “zorillo,” the Spanish word for “skunk.”

The foul odor produced by the zorrilla comes from the anal scent glands. The spray is not only nauseating to those close enough to smell it, but also extremely irritating to the eyes. This smell is part of the animal's defense system. When cornered, the animal raises the hair on its back to make itself look larger. If this fails, it releases the strong-smelling fluid from its anal glands. The zorrilla is easily startled, which also causes it to release the spray, so it is usually de-scented when kept in captivity.

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    • The zorilla is native to Somalia.
      By: Peter Hermes Furian
      The zorilla is native to Somalia.