Monster Monday: Zorilla’s Big Stink

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^Top Image Sure, the zorilla (or striped polecat) is cute, but petting is not advised. Aside from its stinky spray, the zorilla’s sharp teeth and strong jaws can deliver a tenacious and painful bite. Credit: © pjmalsbury/iStoc

Some people consider the African zorilla, also known as the zoril or striped polecat, to be one of the smelliest animals on Earth. This small, black-and-white carnivore resembles the North American skunk and shares the skunk’s defensive habit of spraying a stinky substance at predators. Despite its similarities to the skunk in its appearance and stinky defence, the zorilla is a member of the weasel family.

When threatened, the zorilla puffs up its tail while barking and growling at the attacker. Like a teapot, these vocalizations rise to a high-pitched scream. If the attacker stands its ground, the zorilla may quickly turn around and spray a load of putrid, yellow liquid from its “business end.” The smell of this liquid has been described as rank and somewhat metallic, and it is so strong that it can be detected from more than half a mile (1 kilometer) away. The odor is more than enough to ward off many fierce predators. One witness described a standoff between one zorilla and three lions, and the lions were the first to back away!

The stench of its secretion can cling to the zorilla’s fur for a long time, which helps when the animal tries another defense: playing dead. When a predator approaches the “dead” zorilla and takes a tentative bite, the predator quickly discovers that its potential meal smells and tastes quite foul. All but the hungriest of predators then usually decide to dine elsewhere, allowing the zorilla to see another day. The critter is so putrid-smelling that even vultures and other animals that feed on carrion (dead and decaying animal flesh) are often reluctant to feed on dead zorillas.

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