Current data (fossil, genetic) suggest that carnivores first appeared about 60 million years ago (Martin 1989; Wayne et al. 1989) and by about 45 million years ago four modern families of carnivores were recognized. Those families were the Viverridae (civets), Felidae (cats), Canidae (wolves), and Mustelidae (weasels). Note: modern mustelids cannot be traced back to the early mustelids (KurtÚn and Anderson, 1980); there are no uniquely derived characters that unite them. It is possible that these early "mustelids" may have represented the ancestors to the brach of the phyogentic tree called the Mustelida (Eizirik et al. 2010). This group is composed of the four modern families, Mustelidae, Procyonidae, Ailuridae, and Mephitidae. The oldest known fossil skunk appeared about 12 million years ago (Wolsan 1999). However, recent genetic data indicate that skunks (Mephitidae) have been around for at least 30 to 40 million years (Wayne et al. 1989, Eizirik et al. 2010).

We at the Dragoo Institute recognize the following classification from Eizirik et al. (2010) of modern carnivores:

Order Carnivora

Systematics is the science dealing with the diversity of organisms and the relationships among them, and taxonomy is the theory and practice of classifying and naming organisms. The prevailing system of classification many systematists follow is one based on evolutionary histories or phylogenetic relationships. When skunks were reclassified (see Dragoo and Honeycutt 1997) and placed into their own family it was because of the phylogenetic relationships among skunks, weasels, and other carnivores based on molecular (DNA) data.

Skunks are classified in the Animal Kingdom, which distinguishes them from plants, fungi, and bacteria. Within this kingdom they are grouped with the animals that have a notochord (Phylum Chordata). For our purposes, this phylum contains the animals that have a spinal cord and vertebrae (Subphylum Vertebrata), and include such things as fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals (Campbell 1993). Skunks, of course are mammals. These are the fuzzy animals with heterodont (different types) teeth, a single bone in the lower jaw, and nourish their young with milk secreted from mammary glands (Vaughan et al. 2000) Within the mammals, skunks are classified as members of the Order Carnivora.

Below is the classification of skunks that we follow.

Kingdom - Animalia
    Phylum - Chordata
    • Order - Carnivora
        • Genus - Conepatus Gray 1837
          • Species - Conepatus leuconotus (Lichtenstein 1832) - includes C. mesoleucus (see Dragoo et al. 2003)
          • Species - Conepatus semistriatus (Boddaert 1784)
        • Genus - Mephitis E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and G. Baron Cuvier 1795
          • Species - Mephitis macroura Lichtenstein 1832
          • Species - Mephitis mephitis (Schreber 1776)
        • Genus - Mydaus F. G. Cuvier 1821
          • Species - Mydaus javanensis (Desmarest 1820)
          • Species - Mydaus marchei (Huet 1887)
        • Genus - Spilogale Gray 1865
          • Species - Spilogale angustifrons Howell 1902
          • Species - Spilogale gracilis Merriam 1890
          • Species - Spilogale putorius (Linnaeus 1758)
          • Species - Spilogale pygmaea Thomas 1898
Oop! Don't have this one yet.
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