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 have warning coloration.
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.
Skunks are notorious for their anal scent glands, which they can use as a defensive weapon. They are similar to, though much more developed than, the glands found in species of the Mustelidae family. Skunks have two glands, one on each side of the anus. These glands produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals such as thiols, traditionally called mercaptans, which have a highly offensive smell. The odor of the fluid is strong enough to ward off bears and other potential attackers, and can be difficult to remove from clothing.