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the web of life in southern Africa

Ictonyx striatus (Striped polecat, Zorilla, Cape polecat, African skunk)

stinkmuishond [Afrikaans]; Zorilla [German]; zorille commun [French]; kicheche [Swahili]; iqaqa [isiNdebele]; iqaqa, inganakazana [isiZulu]; nakedi [Sesotho] [Setswana]; ehidembo [Shona]; licaca [siSwati]; thuri [Tshivenda]; kangamba [Lozi] !Ūrob [Nama, Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Mustelidae > Subfamily: Mustelinae


Size: Total length 57-67 cm; shoulder height 10-15 cm; weight range 0.6-1.4 kg

Dental Formula:  ICPM = 34

The striped polecat, also known as the zorilla, is a small animal, with long shiny black hair and 4 clear white stripes running along it’s back and sides, from the top of the head to the base of the tail. The body form is long and slender. The bushy tail is white with some black showing through. There is a white patch on the forehead between the eyes and a larger white patch at the base of each ear. The distinctive black and white markings serve to warn all potential predators that they can expect to be squirted with a foul smelling liquid from the anal glands under the tail.


Found throughout southern African subregion but absent from the Namibian coast. Occurs in a wide variety of habitats.


Striped polecats are strictly nocturnal, usually occurring alone but occasionally in pairs or small family groups. They have a wide habitat tolerance, but wherever they occur they are not common. They shelter in rocky outcrops, thick vegetation, tree trunks or use other species burrows although they may dig their own in sand soil. When threatened the polecat will turn its rump towards the aggressor, arch its back and hold the tail erect. If the threat continues in spite of this “threat display” it will squirt a musky secretion from its anal glands.


Like all members of the mustelids, the striped polecat is a fiercely carnivorous terrestrial hunter. They have specially adapted dentition for killing and cutting up prey, with sharp elongated canines and well-developed cutting and shearing teeth. Their principal prey includes small rodents and insects, but they also catch reptiles, birds, spiders, scorpions and amphibians.


In summer ,after a gestation period of 36 days,  a litter of 1-3 young is born. Young are hairless with both their eyes and ears closed and the dark stripes are visible in the pink skin. The young striped polecats are weaned at about 8 weeks. They start by hunting and eating insects but within a week are killing rats. Life span: 4 - 5 years


This species is currently not regarded as threatened, and their conservation status is low risk.

Text by Denise Hamerton