Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary
Mammals/Dumb Stinkers


Couch potatoes tend to grow fat, lazy, and unproductive. Most people need challenges to rise to their full potential. In nature, this also is true to a degree. Animals that have a free ride, or anything closely approaching it, tend to be unexciting and—let's face it—less than brilliant.

We in the Chihuahuan Desert are blessed with four related mammals whose potential predators give them a wide berth: Hooded Skunk, Striped Skunk, Hog-nosed Skunk, Spotted Skunk—all important components of our desert, but all aptly described as somewhat stupid little stinkers. Skunks have mastered chemical warfare with such success that brainpower seems hardly necessary.

With arrival of modern technology, however, a little more gray matter could help. While a skunk usually can successfully face down a hungry predator, a speeding car seems unaware of a skunk's power—and judging from the number of bodies strewn on our highways, the reverse likewise is true. Luckily, three of our species tend to wilder country, but the Striped Skunk all too often adds yet another stripe to the asphalt surface.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Striped Skunk

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Photographer: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles. ©1999 California Academy of Sciences.