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Eight Ways Skunks Might Surprise You

Don't just dread these little Pepe Le Pews — turns out they don't want to spray, either.

by Reed Sparling
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It turns out skunks do a lot more than create a big stink. Here’s the shocker: They often help humans smell better, by yes, contributing to your fancy perfume. Here are some amazing reasons why these little stinkers deserve more love. 

A baby skunk, or kit, hangs out in a backyard. (Photo: Lindsey Genrich)

Skunks belong to the family Mephitidae, which means “double foul odor.”
They have the ability to spew the noxious secretion from twin anal glands as a mist or a stream that can reach up to 15 feet. (Either way, you can smell the stink a full mile away.) Predators or pets who receive a “direct hit” — equivalent to “getting a face full of tear gas,” says one writer — can suffer from temporary blindness and vomiting. That’s because it contains several volatile (and flammable) compounds known as thiols.

Some perfume manufacturers rely on skunk secretions. 
The skunks’ offensive output also features ingredients that cause the smell to linger for weeks. Distilled from the thiols, these chemicals are added to perfumes to make the pleasant (and expensive) scent last longer. BTW, skunks themselves are turned off by several smells — citrus, ammonia, mothballs, and the urine of predators like coyotes and foxes.

Skunks are basically squatters. 
Their homes of choice tend to be the abandoned burrows of woodchucks and other animals. They’ll also nest in hollow trees or stumps, and occasionally underneath decks and porches. (When that happens, it’s time to contact a humane pest-control service.) Skunks don’t hibernate, but they’ll stay “indoors” throughout a long cold snap. 

A baby skunk climbs a log. (Photo: Julie Rohloff / Flickr CC)

Skunks are primarily nocturnal and solitary.
Their pungent defense mechanism evolved because of this. A 2014 study concluded that small mammals awake in the daytime face the greatest threats from carnivorous birds, requiring them to work together to be on the lookout for them. On the other hand, solo creatures of the night must watch out for terrestrial predators. Skunks’ ability to spray allows them to fend off surprise attacks. They also rely on keen senses of hearing and smell. And if need be, they can run up to 10 mph.

Skunks eat just about anything. 
Their diet includes beetles, wasps, bees, crickets, grubs, berries, nuts, mushrooms, eggs, worms, frogs, mice, voles, and even cottontail rabbits. They support the environment by eating lots of farm and garden pests and consuming carrion that otherwise would emit its own foul odors.

Like deer, male skunks are called bucks and females does. 
They mate in February and early March, and the females give birth in May to a litter averaging around six young, called kits. Born blind and deaf, kits stop nursing after about two months, but they stay with their mom for up to a year, until it’s time for them to mate.

CPKTJF Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) babies and adult- captive specimen, Bozeman, Montana, USA

Skunks’ stripes pinpoint the location of their “secret” weapon. 
Separating on their head, the two white bands meet back up at the tail, near the glands containing the “eau de skunk.” Biologists think this serves as a way of alerting predators to what’s in store if they don’t back off ASAP. Skunks prefer not to spray — it requires energy and takes time to replenish. This visual intimidation, along with pre-spray antics like hissing, stomping their rear feet, and raising their tail, allows them to reserve their ultimate defense as a last resort.

Skunks and cats can get along. 
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, “In the days of small dairy farms, several dozen barn cats often ate from the same pan of milk after each milking. Many a farmer arrived to pour the dregs of the milk strainer into the cat dish and found that one of the cats had a broad tail and a characteristic white ‘V’ across its back.” The DEC adds this warning: “It is not wise to feed a house cat outside your home after dark.”

If you or Fido has an unpleasant encounter with a skunk, try these remedies for getting rid of the smell. Skip the tomato juice — it only masks the odor.

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

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editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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