Guest Column

Why skunks smell so bad

By Zack Walker
Posted 9/22/20

Skunks are small, but they can be smelly!

The reason skunks smell bad is because of a gland under their tail that produces and sprays their stink. The stinky spray is an oily liquid primarily made …

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Guest Column

Why skunks smell so bad

Posted

Skunks are small, but they can be smelly!

The reason skunks smell bad is because of a gland under their tail that produces and sprays their stink. The stinky spray is an oily liquid primarily made up of a substance called thiols, with a sulfur component that is the earmark of the signature skunk odor. A skunk’s smell is hard to get rid of because compounds within the skunk’s oil interact with water, reactivating the odor, so it can bring up the smell again even if you think it’s gone.

Skunks are born with the ability to make and spray thiols from birth. The spray is a defense mechanism — so they will spray if they are surprised or feel threatened. Skunks will often give warning signs that they might spray, like stamping their feet or flicking their tail. Spotted skunks can even do a handstand while spraying!

Wyoming has three skunk species: striped skunk, Eastern spotted skunk and Western spotted skunks — and they all spray.

 

(Zack Walker is the statewide nongame bird and mammal program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. This piece was a part of the department’s ongoing ‘Ask Game and Fish’ series, which is accessible online at wgfd.wyo.gov/Ask-Game-and-Fish-Archive.)

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