orilla, small, carnivorous, nocturnal mammal, Ictonyx striatus, of the weasel family, found in dry regions of Africa. It is also called striped weasel and striped polecat. Although it strongly resembles the North American skunk, a member of the same family, it is more closely related to the true polecat of Eurasia. The zorilla has thick fur with black and white markings, and a long, bushy tail. Its anal glands secrete a pungent fluid that can be ejected as a defense against predators. It is avoided by other animals. It lives in rocky crevices and hunts by night, feeding on small reptiles and rodents. Other African members of the weasel family, also called striped weasels, are more weasellike in appearance, with long, slender bodies. Zorillas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Mustelidae.

Physical Characteristics Edit

Striped polecats are about 60–70 cm (24–28 in) in length, including their tails, and 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) tall to the shoulders on average. They weigh anywhere from .6 kg (1.3 lb) to 1.3 kg (2.9 lb), generally, the males being the larger of the two sexes. Their specific coloring varies by location. Generally they are black on the underside, white on the tail, with stripes running from their heads down their backs and on their cheeks. The legs and feet are black. Their skulls are usually around 56 mm (2.2 in) long, and they have unique face mask coloring, often including a white spot on their head, and white ears. These masks are thought to serve as warnings to potential predators or other antagonists.

Diet Edit

Like other mustelids, the striped polecat is a carnivore. It has 34 sharp teeth which are optimal for shearing flesh and grinding meat. Its diet includes various small rodents, snakes, birds, amphibians, and insects. Due to their small stomachs, they must eat often, and have clawed paws to help them dig around in the dirt in pursuit of their next meal.

Lifestyle and Reproduction Edit

The striped polecat is a solitary creature, often only associating with other members of its species in small family groups or for the purpose of breeding. It is nocturnal, hunting mostly at night. During the day it will burrow into the brush or sleep in the burrows of other animals. Most often striped polecats are found in habitats with large ungulate populations, because of the lower level of shrub that often accompanies the presence of these grazers.

After conception, the gestation period for a striped polecat is about four weeks. During this time the mother prepares a nest for her offspring. The newborn polecats will be completely vulnerable; they are born blind, deaf, and naked. Around one to five offspring are born per litter in the summer season. Up to six can be supported at one time because the mother has six teats. The mother will protect her young until they are able to survive on their own.

Defense Mechanisms Edit

The striped polecat is an aggressive and very territorial animal. It marks its territory with its feces and through an anal spray. The spray serves as a defense against predators, in a similar manner as employed by skunks. The spray, released by anal stink glands, temporarily blinds their adversaries and irritates the mucous membranes, resulting in an intense burning sensation. Before spraying the opponent with this noxious fluid, the striped polecat will often take a deimatic (threat) stance with its back arched, rear end facing the opponent, and tail straight up in the air.

Communication Edit

Striped polecats have been known to communicate with each other using a myriad of verbal signals and calls. Growls are used to act as a warning to possible predators, competitors, or other enemies to back off. High pitched screams have been observed as signifying situations of high aggression or accompanying the spraying of anal emissions. An undulating high to low pitched scream has been used to convey surrender or submission to an adversary. This call has been noted to accompany the subsequent release of the loser. Conversely, a quieter undulating call has been interpreted as functioning as a friendly salutation. Mating calls are common forms of communication between the sexes. Finally, young polecats often have a specific set of calls and signals, used when they are in adolescence, either signifying a feeling of distress or joy depending on if the mother is absent or present.