Are you ready to learn some interesting facts about skunks?
Unfortunately, due to their stinky nature, skunks get an unfortunate reputation.
These nocturnal mammals rarely bother anyone, except for the occasional dog that runs after them. But what would you do if a giant canine were chasing you down? I’d spray him too if I could!
Anyway, skunks are quite interesting if you take the time to learn about them.
Please enjoy these 20 fun facts about skunks!
Fact #1: Skunks can deliver a nasty surprise when frightened.
I know that 99% of people already know this fact, but I HAVE to mention it, just in case someone is not aware.
Skunks have two anal scent glands located on their behind. When trying to defend itself, a skunk can spray a foul-smelling liquid from these glands. The awful smell will hopefully scare away the potential threat.
The scent from a skunk spray is truly horrendous. Whether your dog has gotten sprayed before, or you have smelled skunk roadkill, it’s something that you don’t forget.
Fact #2: Some famous cartoon characters were skunks!
There have been quite a few cartoons that have used skunks over the years. The entire list can be viewed on Wikipedia.
Personally, being a HUGE Disney fan, my favorite skunk character was easy to pick…
Who can forget Flower from the movie Bambi?
Fact #3: There are probably more skunks in your yard than you think.
The chances are that you have never seen a living wild skunk. The reason for this is because these mammals are nocturnal, and they RARELY make an appearance during the daytime.
A few years ago, I put a LIVE camera in my backyard underneath my bird feeders to see what sort of animals came out at night.
I was AMAZED at the number of skunks that make appearances in my suburban neighborhood backyard. There are over ten unique individuals that regularly visit. Luckily, because of a skunk’s unique markings, they are easy to tell apart.
Over the past few years, there has only been ONE skunk that was seen during the day. You can watch this young animal below.
Fact #4: Even their family name references stinking!
In the animal kingdom, the skunk family name is Mephitidae, which literally means “stink”. The family includes skunks and stink badgers, both of which are known for their well-developed anal scent glands. Stink badgers live only in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Skunks used to be part of the Mustelidae family, which includes “musty” animals like weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, martens, mink, and wolverines. Still, modern genetic identification shows that skunks are on a branch of their own.
Fact #5: There are ten different species of skunks.
There are ten different species of skunks that come in various sizes, colorations, and patterns. Skunks can only be found in North and South America.
If you live in the United States, five unique species can be seen.
- Striped Skunk: Most common and lives across most of North America.
- Eastern Spotted Skunk: An animal with beautiful white stripes and coloring. Lives in much of the eastern half of the USA.
- Western Spotted Skunk: Are almost identical to the Eastern Spotted Skunk, except for their ranges. They are found in the western USA, southwestern British Colombia, and northern Mexico.
- Hooded Skunk: Mostly lives in Mexico, but their range extends into the southwestern USA.
- American Hog-nosed Skunk: Can be found in the southwestern USA, along with most of Mexico.
Skunks even have a pair of relatives called the Palawan and Sunda Stink Badgers that are not from the Mustelidae (badger) family, despite the name. These guys got the badger name because physically, they resemble a badger’s shape. But they possess a pair of anal scent glands, just like skunks!
Unfortunately, if you want to see a stink badger, you’ll have to go to the Malay Archipelago, midway between Asia and Australia, which is the only place where you can find them.
Fact #6: Their stripes serve a purpose.
Fur coloration is usually designed as camouflage, but this rather stark contrast between black and white actually draws attention-and that is a good thing!
For diurnal (out in the daytime) critters, it’s a good idea to be hard to spot by predators, such as birds of prey or big, land-based hunters.
Nocturnal creatures, like skunks, don’t have to worry much about camouflage. In fact, skunks want to be seen as a threat!
And those stripes point directly to their most effective weapon, which are their anal ducts that can launch their obnoxious spray over 3 meters (10 feet), and is accurate within six feet.
I guess we should be thanking skunks for their “warning” stripes!
Fact #7: They are not the only animal with anal scent glands.
Anal scent glands are not something found only in skunks.
All carnivores have them, but they are just more developed in skunks. In particular, members of the weasel family may also secrete a smelly liquid to mark their territory.
One member of the weasel family, the wolverine, has even earned the nickname “skunk bear” because of their smell.
I know that we have to take our dog to the vet every few months to have them empty her anal glands. Otherwise, they fill up, and she can barely walk! Thank goodness dogs can’t “express” these glands on demand like skunks!
Fact #8: There is a chemistry behind that nasty scent.
Pungent doesn’t begin to describe the smell of skunk spray.
But interestingly, there is an amazing chemical mixture of sulfur-based compounds called thiols behind the incredible smell.
If you like chemistry, this is the basis of how it works: skunks make their own mixture called n-butyl mercaptan, which is composed mainly of three low-molecular-weight thiol compounds (E)-2-butene-1-thiol, 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, and 2-quinolinemethanethiol.
They’re regular little chemists, aren’t they?
Fact #9: Skunk spray can be dangerous.
First, it is highly flammable. Luckily, skunks have no means to set it alight, so that probably isn’t an issue. Wouldn’t that be a great defensive mechanism, though? Would you mess with a skunk that could spray liquid fire at you? I guess we’d have to rename them to Mephitidae Stripeus Flamethowerus!
The spray of a skunk can be completely debilitating. The smell alone can make the staunchest of us flee like children. But it is also so powerful that it can cause nausea and vomiting. A direct hit in the eyes can cause temporary blindness, giving the skunk plenty of time to make its getaway.
And the smell can last for days, and often much longer.
The only good news is that the spray is not toxic or poisonous. 🙂
Fact #10: Tomato juice won’t cure the stench.
You have probably heard the old wives’ tales about bathing your pets in tomato juice after getting sprayed, but that doesn’t really work.
It may seem to work by partially obscuring the smell, and then substituting another one. What is actually happening is olfactory exhaustion where constant exposure means we lose sensitivity to it, but it is still there, and all-powerful.
If you invite someone to visit, they’ll certainly let you know that the skunk smell is still “fresh”.
Fact #11: There is a better cure than tomato juice.
So how do we beat the smell? Simple!
We just have to change the characteristics of the thiols that give the smell its power. That requires hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, which is completely effective and a heck of a lot cheaper than a bathtub full of ineffective tomato juice!
This combination works instantly because of, you guessed it, chemistry! What you are going to do is attach an oxygen atom to that nasty sulfur atom and destroy its ability to stink. Does it sound complex? You don’t even need a laboratory or a hunchbacked assistant named “Igor.” It’s actually quite simple.
Mix hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) with baking soda (NaHCO3) in a ratio of 1½ to 1, and add a little baby shampoo (if desired) to help break up the oils. Make sure it’s regular strength hydrogen peroxide and not that 3% dollar-store junk. Ask for it at the drug store and tell them what it is for (if they can’t tell what you need it for by the smell) so that they give you the “good stuff” (that is, at least a 10% solution).
You can wash directly with it, or put this solution in a spray bottle and soak your pet’s fur. Spray it on yourself if necessary, and you can even do the exterior walls of your house, if that was a victim, too. You will be amazed at the instant odor removal!
Fact #12: Some people love keeping skunks as pets.
Skunk lovers will tell you about their friendliness, inquisitive nature, and how clever they are. Each one has its own personality, similar to other domestic pets like dogs and cats.
Of course, these skunks have had their scent glands removed. 🙂
The difficulty for skunk fans is that they are illegal to keep as pets in 33 states (USA). No matter where you live, there are regulations and lots of hoops to jump through to keep a skunk as a pet.
Fact #13: They can still stink, even with their anal scent glands removed.
People who keep skunks as pets almost always have their anal scent glands removed. But even then, a skunk will continue to produce a foul odor.
That’s because skunks have other glands located throughout their body that will produce a musky odor. It’s similar to the smell produced by a ferret. They may not be able to spray you, but they still won’t smell pleasant.
Fact #14: Some of us cannot smell skunks.
Just like 15% of us are unaffected by poison ivy, there is a much smaller group of people who are immune to skunk smell. The condition is known as specific anosmia (also known as smell blindness), which is the inability to smell one particular odor.
Only about one in a thousand people cannot detect the smell of a skunk. Consider yourself VERY lucky if you are among this group!
Fact #15: Skunks only spray if there is no other choice!
Skunks do not have an unlimited supply of smelly spray, so they must use caution when deploying this tactic.
Skunks can spray as many as six times in a row. But the problem is that recharge time is very slow. From empty to full again takes about ten days. This defensive measure is a valuable resource. They don’t want to waste it, so threats are better.
In this video from my backyard, you can watch a raccoon literally SIT on a skunk, and it still doesn’t spray!
A skunk will give you plenty of warning that it is time to move out of its way. Some will stamp their paws or appear to charge forward. Others will stand on their hands and begin advancing toward you, or turn and squat & plant, to give you plenty of opportunities to reconsider your life choices.
It seems that skunks are trying to give you a chance to ask yourself, “Do you really want to do this, or are you going to be smart and go away?”
Discretion, as they say, is the better part of valor, so accept the polite warning and go away before you get yourself in more trouble. If a skunk does spray, it is capable of facing its head and tail at you, providing tremendous accuracy.
So you should just be mindful of the signs and get yourself out of the way!
Fact #16: They are denning animals.
When they cannot find a suitable tree stump, hollowed-out log, or back porch to live under, skunks will use an abandoned den from another animal.
When all else fails, they have powerful digging claws and will make their own home from scratch (no pun intended). Skunks rarely travel more than a few miles from their den, so they will normally locate themselves within two miles of a body of water.
Fact #17: They provide excellent pest control.
Skunks eat things you might not want in your gardens, such as beetles, grasshoppers, grubs, worms, rodents, frogs, and mushrooms. They also like berries, so install some steel mesh if you value your raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
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One thing they are particularly good for is controlling poisonous snakes. They are immune to the venom, so they often make a meal out of rattlesnakes and other unwelcome visitors. They also like the taste of wasps, bees, and honey, so protect your beehives, but make sure they have a clear path to the wasp nests!
Fact #18: They are solitary creatures.
Most of the time, skunks live alone. The exception is during the colder months, when skunks may huddle together in communal dens to stay warm. Skunks never hibernate, but they are not as active during winter.
Males (bucks) don’t help to raise their young. Mom (does) will have a litter of 1-10 kits between April and June. The babies follow her around, like her own personal parade.
A gathering of skunks is called a surfeit, which means excess, surplus, glut, flood, oversupply, overabundance, plethora, or profusion. As you can guess from the name, for many people, even one skunk is far too many!
Fact #19: Certain animals prey on skunks.
You wouldn’t think anything would want to eat a skunk, but that is not true. Coyotes, bobcats, owls, eagles, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions all have been known to prey on skunks.
Because they are often hunted, their lifespan in the wild is usually only around three years. However, they can live more than three times that as pets in captivity.
Fact #20: You can discourage skunks rather easily.
Did a skunk move into your yard?
Don’t worry! They are easy to get rid of without poison, traps, or other things that end in a skunk’s death. Just keep the area they frequent well-lit for a few nights (such as under your deck), and leave portable radios playing at no more than conversational level. Use a talk-radio station rather than music, since they don’t like human voices.
They will move on very quickly. Skunks don’t want to interact with us and will find a new place to live.
Despite being known for their foul odors, skunks do not like being around certain smells that they consider offensive. These include fox or dog urine, ammonia, pepper spray, and citrus peels. So if you put some of these things out, you will probably send your skunk scattering as well.
You could also try a pre-made smelly mixture to help detour skunks, along with many other mammals.
Do you want to try and watch LIVE skunks?
Then check out the webcam that I have streaming in my backyard. Many nights you will be able to see multiple skunks enjoying peanuts and sunflower seeds under my bird feeders. During the day, you are most likely to see squirrels, ducks, and ground foraging birds.