Skunks (also called polecats in America) are mammals known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong odor. Different species of skunk vary in appearance from black-and-white to brown or cream colored, but all havewarning coloration.
The word "polecat" (with "pole" from either the French poule "chicken" or puant "stinking"), which in Europe refers to the wild relatives of the ferret, has been attested in the New World to refer to the skunk since the 1680s. The word "squunck" is attested in New England in the 1630s, probably borrowed from Abenaki seganku or another Algonquian language, with theProto-Algonquian form */šeka:kwa/ being a compound of the roots */šek-/ meaning 'to urinate' and */-a:kw/ meaning 'fox'.The name of the family and of the most common genus (Mephitidae, Mephitis) means "stench", while Spilogale putoriusmeans "stinking spotted weasel".
Skunk species vary in size from about 15.6 to 37 in (40 to 94 cm) and in weight from about 1.1 lb (0.50 kg) (spotted skunks) to 18 lb (8.2 kg) (hog-nosed skunks). They have moderately elongated bodies with relatively short, well-muscled legs and long front claws for digging.
Although the most common fur color is black and white, some skunks are brown or grey and a few are cream-colored. All skunks are striped, even from birth. They may have a single thick stripe across back and tail, two thinner stripes, or a series of white spots and broken stripes (in the case of the spotted skunk). Some also have stripes on their legs.