Skunks (in the United States, occasionally called polecats) are mammals best known for their ability to secrete a liquid with a strong, foul odor. General appearance varies from species to species, from black-and-white to brown or cream colored. Skunks, together with their closest living relatives, the stink badgers, belong to the "skunk family", the "Mephitidae" and to the order Carnivora. There are twelve species of Mephistids, which are divided into four genera: Mephitis, the (hooded and striped skunks, two species), Spilogale the (spotted skunks, four species), the Mydaus or stink badgers, two species), and Conepatus, the (hog-nosed skunks, four species). The two stink badgers in the Mydaus genus inhabit Indonesia and the Philippines; while all skunks inhabit the Americas from Canada to central South America. All other known Mephistids are extinct and known only through fossils, many in Eurasia
Skunks had been classified as a subfamily within the Mustelidae, or "weasel family", which includes ferrets, weasels, otters, badgers, stoats, and wolverines. However, recent genetic evidence suggests that skunks are not as closely related to the mustelids as previously thought; they are now classified in their own family. The stink badgers had until recently been classified on the basis of physical examination with the other badgers, but genetic testing has proven correct those who believed stink badgers to share a more recent common ancestor with skunks than they do with the weasel family, and so the stink badgers have been transferred from the badger family to the skunk family.