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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 14 years (captivity) Observations: Males only mate when they are about 2 years of age, but they may become sexually mature with less than a year of age. One wild born animal was about 14 years old when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Untitled

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Although striped polecats are not endangered or threatened, the majority of the ones killed are by motor vehicles. Several members of the family are often killed by cars because none of the other ones will leave the scene once one has been hit. Unlike hares and antelope that meet the same fate, dead polecats do not seem to attract scavengers and will remain longer on the roads.

(Kingdom 1977)

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Behavior

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Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Conservation Status

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Zorillas have no special conservation status.

US Federal List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Benefits

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Polecats around farms will prey on small livestock like rabbits, chickens, and chicken eggs.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Benefits

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Striped polecats are very common on big sheep farms and ranches of the Kenyan highlands. They perform an extremely important role in the pastures by keeping down the number of beetle larvae that feed on roots and grasses. Farmers like polecats because they also eat a large proportion of the field rats and mice which ruin crops. (Kingdom, 1977; Meester, 1971)

Striped polecats may be kept as pets if the anal glands are removed to keep down objectionable odors. Interestingly, there is at least one report of native peoples using the anal gland secretions of these animals as a perfume (Kingdom, 1977). (One must wonder whether this was because the people liked the way the polecats smelled, or if wearing polecat scent might be a way to cloak their own human odors from other animals, preventing those animals from detecting human presence — a useful hunting strategy.)

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Associations

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This predator controls populations of small rodents, especially in agricultural areas, where rodents feed on crops and dung of farm animals.

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Striped polecats are carnivores. They eat a wide variety of small rodents, including rats, mice, and spring hares. They also eat frogs, lizards, snakes, birds, bird eggs, and beetles. They avoid eating vegetable matter.

Polecats are particularly prevalent on rangelands, where the grazing behavior of wild herbivores and domestic livestock tends to keep the grass short. This allows striped polecats to feed on beetles, their larvae, and mice. Where there is an abundance of dung and fodder for beetles and mice to eat, striped polecats flourish because of the abundance of prey (Delany, 1979; Kingdom, 1977)

Animal Foods: mammals; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Eats eggs, Insectivore )

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Distribution

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Striped polecats are found throughout the African continent. They are distributed in all habitats occurring between the Mauritanian coast and the coast of Sudan, and southward to the South African coast. (Ansell, 1960; Bere, 1962; Happold, 1987; Smithers, 1986)

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Habitat

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Striped polecats inhabit a wide variety of habitats. Although they are most commonly found in African savannas and semi-arid environments, they can also be found anywhere from the coastal sand dunes of the Namib desert, to the big rainfall areas of the District of Zimbabwe, which has forests, high mountains, and even swamps. (Ansell, 1960; Bere, 1962; Happold, 1987; Smithers, 1986)

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Wetlands: swamp

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Life Expectancy

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The lifespan of wild zorillas has not been reported. However, one captive specimen reportedly lived for 13 years and 4 months. (Nowak, 1999)

Range lifespan
Status: captivity:
13.3 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
13.3 years.

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Morphology

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Striped polecats closely resemble the North American skunk. These small carnivores have glossy, coarse black fur with distinctive white spots on the face. There is a spot on the forehead and one on each cheek, and the black ears have white tips. Four broad white stripes extend down the body from the top of the head to the tip of the tail.

The body length can vary between 28 and 30 cm, not including the tail, which can add an extra 20 to 30 cm to the total length. Males are usually larger than females, weighing in at about 1.4 kg with females down at about 1.02 kg.

These polecats have long sharp claws on the forepaws, which are mainly adapted for digging, but are also useful when climbing trees. The teeth are shorter than the teeth of weasels (another close relative of the polecat), and the cutting edges of the sheering teeth are less developed. (Kingdom, 1977; Meester, 1971)

Average mass: 1.02-1.4 kg.

Average length: 28-30 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average mass: 910 g.

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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Associations

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Specific reports of predation on this species are absent in the literature. However, striped polecats are reportedly pestered by domestic dogs. They may also occasionally be considered as prey items by larger African carnivores.

Striped polecats have a variety of behaviors and physical features which may be evolutionary responses to predation. A polecat will make frequent stops or reversals in direction while moving about. These changes in direction are instantaneous. This might give the impression that they posses quick reflexes, and may deter predators. It is likely that such changes in direction will also avert attack from any predator, especially avian predators, which may be closing in on the polecat.

When bothered by another animal, most commonly dogs, a striped polecat will growl and bark and fluff up its tail. If this does not drive the attacker away, the growling rises to a high pitched scream. The polecat will turn around and present its attacker with a squirt from its well-developed anal glands. (Like the skunks found in North America, striped polecats can spray a large amount of powerfully odorous secretions from their anal glands.) If the odor does not deter the assailant, a polecat may feign death. Anal gland secretions, which linger on the fur of a polecat, may then serve to further deter predators because they have a terrible taste. A predator that tries to bite a polecat may decide that the polecat will make a terrible-tasting meal and subsequently release it.

These beasts commonly feign death when actually attacked. It is dificult to speculate on how that may aid them in detering a predator, as it would seem to make them easier to consume. However, this may allow the predator to get a good taste of their anal gland secretions and allow them the convenience to decide to release the zorilla uneaten.

(Nowak, 1999; Kingdom, 1977; Meester, 1971)

Known Predators:

  • domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
  • birds (Aves)
  • large carnivores (Carnivora)
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Aguilar, W. 2003. "Ictonyx striatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ictonyx_striatus.html
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Reproduction

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The mating system of this species is unknown. These animals are solitary in the wild. Male encounters are always aggressive. Males and females only tolerate one another only during the mating season.

Because males are larger than females and are aggressive toward one another, it is likely that there is some competition between them for mates. Species in which males are larger than females generally display some level of polygyny.

Zorillas are generally intollerant of one another except during the mating season, when males and females can interact without aggression. Studies of captive animals indicate that the breeding season is from early spring to late summer. All litters were born between September and December. Females generally produced only one litter in a season, but if all of her babies died young, a female could produce another litter before the end of the breeding season. (Nowak, 1999)

The mother usually gives birth to a litter ranging from 1 to 4 young. The young are born in burrows during the mid-summer months after a 6 week gestation period.Weighing in at 15 g, a newborn is blind and hairless with pink skin. Short fur begins to cover their body at 21 days after birth. The canine teeth don't grow out until day 32, and they don't open their eyes until they are between 35 and 42 days old. Although zorillas can kill their own prey at 9 weeks of age, they aren't completely weaned until they are 18 weeks old. Sexual maturity is reached between the 20th and 30th week, although some females in captivity have given birth at an age of 10 weeks. (Kingdom, 1977; Meester, 1971)

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in early spring through late summer.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.

Average gestation period: 36 days.

Average weaning age: 18 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 to 30 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 to 30 weeks.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous

Average birth mass: 15 g.

Average gestation period: 36 days.

Average number of offspring: 2.

Parental care in this species has not been described in the literature. However, because of the solitary nature of the species, it is reasonable to assume that the male is not involved in rearing the young. Females give birth to their young in burrows. Young are altricial, and therefore require extensive care until they are able to survive on their own. Females nurse young until they are about 18 weeks old. (Nowak, 1999)

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care

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Striped polecat

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The striped polecat (Ictonyx striatus) - also called the African polecat, zoril, zorille, zorilla, Cape polecat, and African skunk - is a member of the family Mustelidae that resembles a skunk (of the family Mephitidae).[3] The name "zorilla" comes from the word "zorro", which in Spanish means "fox". It lives predominantly in dry and arid climates, such as the savannahs and open country of Central, Southern, and sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the Congo basin and the more coastal areas of West Africa.[2][4]

Physical characteristics

Striped polecats are about 60–70 cm (24–28 in) in length, including their tails, and 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) tall to the shoulders on average. They weigh from 0.6 to 1.3 kg (1.3 to 2.9 lb), generally, with the males being the larger of the two sexes.[4] Their specific coloring varies by location. Generally they are black on the underside, white on the tail, with stripes running from their heads down their backs and on their cheeks. The legs and feet are black. Their skulls are usually around 56 mm (2.2 in) long, and they have unique face-mask coloring, often including a white spot on their heads, and white ears.[5][6] These masks are thought to serve as warnings to potential predators or other antagonists.[7]

Diet

Like other mustelids, the striped polecat is a carnivore. It has 34 sharp teeth which are optimal for shearing flesh and grinding meat. Its diet includes various small rodents, snakes, birds, amphibians, and insects.[8] Due to their small stomachs, they must eat often, and have clawed paws to help them dig around in the dirt in pursuit of their next meal.[3][9]

Lifestyle and reproduction

The striped polecat is a solitary creature, often only associating with other members of its species in small family groups or for the purpose of breeding. It is nocturnal, hunting mostly at night.[3] During the day, it burrows into the brush or sleeps in the burrows of other animals.[10] Most often, striped polecats are found in habitats with large ungulate populations, because of the lower level of shrubs where these grazers occur.[2][4][11]

After conception, the gestation period for a striped polecat is about 4 weeks. During this time, the mother prepares a nest for her offspring. The newborn polecats are completely vulnerable; they are born blind, deaf, and naked.[12] Around one to five offspring are born per litter in the summer. Up to six can be supported at one time, if food is available, because the mother has six teats.[13] The mother protects her young until they are able to survive on their own.[10]

Defense mechanisms

The striped polecat is an aggressive and very territorial animal. It marks its territory with its feces and through an anal spray.[14] The spray serves as a defense against predators, in a similar manner to skunks. The spray, released by anal stink glands, temporarily blinds their adversaries and irritates the mucous membranes, resulting in an intense burning sensation.[15] Before spraying the opponent with this noxious fluid, the striped polecat often takes a deimatic (threat) stance with its back arched, rear end facing the opponent, and tail straight up in the air.[10]

Communication

Striped polecats have been known to communicate with each other using myriad verbal signals and calls. Growls act as a warning to possible predators, competitors, or other enemies to back off. High-pitched screams have been observed as signifying situations of high aggression or accompanying the spraying of anal emissions. An undulating high- to low-pitched scream has been used to convey surrender or submission to an adversary. This call has been noted to accompany the subsequent release of the loser. Conversely, a quieter undulating call has been interpreted as functioning as a friendly salutation. Mating calls are common forms of communication between the sexes. Young polecats often have a specific set of calls and signals, used in adolescence, either signifying distress or joy depending on if the mother is absent or present.[16][17]

References

  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Ictonyx striatus". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b c Stuart, C.; Stuart, T. & Hoffmann, M. (2008). "Ictonyx striatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2010.old-form url
  3. ^ a b c Walker, Clive (1996). Signs of the Wild. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. p. 56.
  4. ^ a b c Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 429. ISBN 9780520272972.
  5. ^ Skinner & Chimimba (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 504. ISBN 9780521844185.
  6. ^ Hoath, Richard (2009). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press. p. 84. ISBN 9789774162541.
  7. ^ Newman; Buesching & Wolff (2005). The function of facial masks in midguild carnivores (PDF). Oxford: Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Dept of Zoology. p. 632.
  8. ^ Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 422&429.
  9. ^ Skinner & Chimimba (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 504.
  10. ^ a b c Stuart & Stuart (2001). Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishing. p. 132.
  11. ^ Blaum; Acta Oecologica; et al. (22 December 2007). "Shrub encroachment affects mammalian carnivore abundance and species richness in semiarid rangelands". Acta Oecologica. 31 (1): 86–92. Bibcode:2007AcO....31...86B. doi:10.1016/j.actao.2006.10.004.
  12. ^ Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 424.
  13. ^ Hoath, Richard (2009). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press. p. 85. ISBN 9789774162541.
  14. ^ Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 422.
  15. ^ Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 419.
  16. ^ Estes, Richard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 431.
  17. ^ Channing & Rowe-Rowe (1 January 1977). "Vocalizations of South African Mustelines". Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie. 44 (3): 283–293. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1977.tb00996.x. PMID 930442.
  • Larivière, Serge (2002). Ictonyx striatus". Mammalian Species (698):1–5.
  • Nowak, Ronald M. (2005). Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. ISBN 0-8018-8032-7

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Striped polecat: Brief Summary

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The striped polecat (Ictonyx striatus) - also called the African polecat, zoril, zorille, zorilla, Cape polecat, and African skunk - is a member of the family Mustelidae that resembles a skunk (of the family Mephitidae). The name "zorilla" comes from the word "zorro", which in Spanish means "fox". It lives predominantly in dry and arid climates, such as the savannahs and open country of Central, Southern, and sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the Congo basin and the more coastal areas of West Africa.

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