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The Spotted Skunk Is One Stinky Acrobat
Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 by eNature


The skunk that most of us in the U.S. know best, the Striped skunk, is just an entry-level stinker.

Its cousin, the Spotted skunk, possesses an even more potent musk.  And the Spotted skunk is also the better entertainer.

A Seldom Seen Skunk
The smallest skunks found in North America, Spotted skunks are sleek, fast, and skilled climbers. They’re highly nocturnal, too, which means that few of us ever see them.

One of the two sub-species, Western Spotted or Eastern Spotted skunk, can be found in most of the continental U.S.  (See range maps to right)  There’s very little difference between two sub-species, although the Eastern tends to be slightly larger than the Western.

These skunks’ nocturnal nature means that while we’re spared their malodorous weapon, we’re deprived their acrobatic performances. These start when the spotted skunk feels itself threatened.

Fancy Dancers
First, the animal rapidly stomps the ground with its forefeet. Next, quite remarkably, it rises up on its front legs and performs one or more handstands. And if the threat persists, the skunk will drop back onto all fours, curve its body so that both front and back ends face the interloper, and deliver a blast of skunk musk up to 16 feet away. 

The video above, from the BBC show Weird Nature, shows the Spotted skunk performing its distinctive dance, although it’s in an unusual setting.  Researchers speculate that this performance (which they refer to as a demonstration) has evolved as a warning to predators and other animals.  Once a would-be predator has seen it and then been sprayed, the thinking is that subsequent demonstrations act as warnings and discourage further attempts at predation.

It all sounds quite entertaining, as long as you’re not on the receiving end!

What To Do If The Unfortunate Happens?
The malodorous oil that skunks spray is produced by glands around the anus.  The secretion of Spotted skunks differs from that of Striped skunks— and can actually smell stronger if water is used to remove it.  One of the most effective ways to remove the oil’s unpleasant smell is to oxidize the active elements in it with baking soda or hydrogen peroxide when bathing humans or pets.

Have you encountered a Spotted Skunk, or even a Striped one?  We’ve heard many good skunk stories over the years and would enjoy hearing yours.




one evening a few years ago i noticed a small black cat sitting under my azalea bush outside on my patio . thinking the cat was injured i went out to see what was wrong. as i stood there i marveled at how the spotlight was reflecting off the cats white stripe on its head. as i reached down to pet the kitty i heard a clicking sound and thought i had never heard a cat make a sound like that before and at the same time i realized it wasnt a cat but a skunk which was warning me to stay away so still in a leaning position i slowly backed away from the “cat” and quietly went back into my house. i felt very lucky that the skunk did not spray me

Posted by carol gelfand on 3/27

Those are striped skunks in the video! Where I grew up in eastern NE we called the spotted skunks polecats, and seemed rare compared to the striped variety.

Posted by Barb` on 3/27

On vacation at Cape Cod my brother and I sat at a picnic table chatting quietly. It was almost dark when an eery white stripe floated past us.  We decided we’ve move on and walked down the street - the floating white stripe followed us.  When we turned and walked back down the street, so did the floating white stripe.  We played it safe and went inside.  Curious critter.

Posted by Lu on 3/27

working at a wildlife rehabilitation organization I’ve been able to care for all kinds of babies. One year we got in a pair of spotted skunks, a brother and sister. They had been swept out of their den by flood water and washed down a stream where someone found them and brought them in.
What a delight they were! Much smaller than striped skunks, but they developed about the same rate. While still quite small (after their eyes had opened) it was a delight to watch them play together. And lo and behold, they stood on their hands, one after another, and rough housed by knocking the other off of their hands and rolling around in their bedding.
But I think the sweetest thing was this—the little white spots on their foreheads formed tiny white hearts. (every skunk has different markings, so I knew these two were special.)
They were released in the Texas Hill Country when they were old enough to find food on their own and defend themselves.
One of the best experiences ever!!!

Posted by Robin on 3/27

We used to live in a home in Van Buren, Arkansas that had woods coming all the way up to the back of the house. One year, a family consisting of a mother raccoon, several baby raccoons and a baby skunk would appear on the back deck each evening to indulge in the dry cat food left out for the feral cats. The baby skunk was smaller than the raccoons, but would turn it’s back to the raccoons and back them away from the tin pan of food, then eat it’s fill before allowing the others to eat, although I don’t think it could spray yet, as there was never an odor. Eventually the mother stopped coming, but the baby skunk always showed up with the baby raccoons. I have photos of the group, and it appears that the mother raccoon had adopted the baby skunk.

Posted by Sandy Donohue on 3/27

One evening having grilled outside,we (husband, 1 year old son and I) were sitting in the farm yard.
When I looked down the driveway to see a striped skunk coming erratically our way,upon telling husband, his reply to the effect that no skunk would approach our noise. He only turned around to look when I jumped up. grabbing the son and mounting the porch yelled at him.
He got the 22 and eventually shot the animal about right where we had been.  The vet’s advice was to not handle the body, but to use a pitch fork to carry it and bury it deep.

Posted by MaryJo Bruns on 3/27

One morning, it was still dark and I walked down our driveway to get the morning paper.  Since it was trash/recycle pick-up day, I was carrying a empty 1 quart plastic soda container to deposit in the recycle container down at the road. I was startled to hear this barking noise coming from somewhere near the driveway and turned to see what it was, expecting a racoon or some other critter. A striped skunk came charging straight at me. Alarmed, I started banging the plastic bottle on my leg to stop the attacker. As it got to my foot, it made an abrupt 90 degree turn and ran a few yards until it ran head long into the garbage can, bounced off and continued to run away. I was very releived as I did not get sprayed or bitten.

Posted by Don Sadowski on 3/27

Last year, in The Woodlands, Texas, two streets from my house, I u-turned, parked and crept into a wide esplanade where I’d seen a juvenile striped skunk digging between pine trees.  I had a new camera I intended on getting a some pictures.  The skunk continued digging as if I weren’t there.  When I got about 15 feet away, the skunk froze and raised its’ nose into the air, catching my scent, I guessed.  After looking my direction, he went back to digging.  I got a few pictures, but after I took two more steps, the little skunk whipped its’ head around, looked directly at me and charged!  I retreated quickly and didn’t get sprayed.  I didn’t need to see a handstand to get the message!

Posted by Bryon Satterfield on 3/27

I was standing out on my front step when I felt something brush against my leg and step on my foot.  Thinking one of my cats had accidently got out I looked down and saw a striped skunk step off my foot and down the step.  I stood very still as it rounded the corner of the house.  I don’t know if it even realized I was there, but it had the softest feet I have every felt.

Posted by Bobbi Jo Burow on 3/27

We used to live next to a forest preserve near Chicago. There were several times that our house was skunked. We never could find the exact place where it was sprayed so we couldn’t clean it. The stench lasted for about three days.

Posted by Linnea Morrisey on 3/27

Working in Oregon Mt. Hood forest, we used to feed pancakes to several spotted skunks. They became quite tame for us. Whenever we were making pancakes they would show up as if on cue! They were rarely around if we made anything else. They were quite the special entertainers with their clown antics and pancake begging ways.

Posted by Ridge Sanchez on 3/28

A soldier drove about 130 miles with 5 baby striped skunks to my veterinarian father’s office because of his reputation. The mother skunk had been killed under a barracks and the soldier has rescued the babies. He asked if my father could remove the scent gland from the babies so they could be pets. For several days my father researched the task before performing the operation outdoors - just in case! In the meantime my siblings and I fell in love with those adorable babies. By agreement the operations were free and we kept one of the baby skunks. Since the skunk was now defenseless, we could not allow it to get outside, but what a wonderful house pet for many years. Its favorite foods were eggs, watermelon, and any insects that got into its cage. My father later operated on so many skunks that the odor became pleasant to me. Incidentally skunk oil was used in many of the best perfumes to give the sweet scent permanence.

Posted by robert killian on 3/28

SOME of these people are comparing stripies to spotties - ONLY the spotties do handstands. And yes; even HEALTHY NON-RABID skunks WILL walk right up to and approach people—they are nearsighted and are generally fearless. Although skunks are usually crepuscular (early evening/night-time) animals they DO sometimes come out in the day time—so please don’t think that all skunks are rabid.
And please know when to write its - vs- it’s. I love these comments but some of the grammar is atrocious.

Posted by YTK on 3/28

Many years ago I lived on a tiny US Air Force base on a mountain.  One day an AP at the main gate called me in a panic, saying that I had to get up there and save my cat.  She was being chased down the road by a skunk.  Within seconds, he said “Wait, now she’s chasing the skunk!”  The two animals alternated chasing each other much of the morning.  (This was Pennsylvania, and it was a striped skunk.)

They grew to be great friends.  The skunk lived under the porch of one of the barracks, and Smokey the cat often visited Stinker’s home.  Smokey tried to bring Stinker into our house on several occasions.  The two would sit side-by-side at the door.  Smokey was very disappointed when we wouldn’t let her friend in.

Posted by Silk Kolb on 3/28

i have had skunks husband and i have fed them out of our hands .a moma skunk brought her babies to us like she was showing them to husband picked one of the babies up,and then when he sat it down it started stomping its front feet.we have pictures of them that my sister-in law took of the big skunks.

Posted by jean on 3/28

I love and even LOL at some of the animal stories.  Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Cindy on 3/28

Dear YTK,

Sorry to offend you with my usage of “it’s” when “its” was the correct word. I carefully composed my story. Maybe I would be more of a grammar expert if I had your education…mine ended with ninth grade, unfortunately. I can’t speak for the others, but I’ve learned to not be so critical of others…we don’t know where they’ve walked, much less what they were born with! The stories shared here have given me a great deal of joy, and I appreciate the efforts of the storytellers regardless of their abilities!

Posted by Sandy Donohue on 3/28

Well, the rules of grammar are basic and quite well-ingrained into students by 9th grade. My grandfather had a 2nd grade education only, but that did not stop him from continuing to learn and advance into the executive realm, with proper grammar and diction.

I did enjoy your story but just like the author of the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I am dismayed that there are so many who don’t properly use the basic forms of grammar.

Posted by YTK on 3/28

nature at its finest.

Posted by christy on 3/28

I agree with Sandy 100%. But back to skunks, they are some of the cutest animals out there. Years ago, a neighbor had a racoon and a skunk. We loved to play with both of them. But someone else didn’t share our fondness and poisened them. Talk about heartbreak.

Posted by Jim B. on 3/28

Striped skunks have always been part of the suburban L.A.habitat—their lemony scent wafting in on the evening breeze and scenes of mom and kits marching down the street. A pair used to come up out of the gully that ran by our backyard to perform a sweet little courtship dance under the light of the moon and stars And the glow of city lights. The two circled and wove round and round each other for many nights each spring—gracefully, quietly, enchantingly—and blissfully unaware of their rapt human audience.  They are apparently quite sensual on this way. On a camping trip, one found me in the middle of the night, and as I stood there frozen, the softest creature imaginable wound through my legs like a cat, nudging it’s head and body against my ankles and calves and brushing my legs with its feathery tail until it was quite sated.  Oh, what a memorable encounter!

Posted by Karen Walker on 3/28

One night, when camping on my property, my dog and I got out of the tent to go pee.  He ran off into the dark and I squatted.  I heard a ruckus and, while squatting, shone the flashlight in that direction.  Here came my dog, running right for me, being chased by a skunk!  Well, I couldn’t move, being in the position and activity I was in, so I started yelling “NO!  NO!”  At the last moment, about 3 feet away from me, my dog veered off to the right and the skunk followed.  They ran right past me!  My dog got sprayed-not a direct hit, but a hit none-the-less.  I escaped without scent or injury and have had a lot of good laughs picturing the scene from another vantage point.

Posted by Susan M. on 3/29

Does anyone remember that in the early 1970’s having skunks and racoons as pets were a fad?  I recall seeing several skunks and racoons on leashes.  It seems they have personalities amenable to living with humans as pets.  I don’t see either animal any longer replacing dogs and cats.  I wonder if there was a problem?  I am thoroughly enjoying all the stories of encounters with skunks and eagerly open my latest email notice to see a new one!

Posted by Bryon Satterfield on 3/29

i think more people have them as pets and dont tell anyone about it for fear of getting big fines or having the animals taken away from them! why every time there is a raccoon or skunk in the news they immediately say it has rabies when very few of them do, just to keep people away from them and so no one is upset when they immediately destroy them.

Posted by carol gelfand on 3/29

Several years ago, I saw what I first thought was a white cat running across the lawn at dusk. It wasn’t moving like a cat, though, and on looking closer I discovered that it was indeed a striped skunk, but the colors were reversed - it was white with not-very-wide black stripes running from head to tail! I wonder if this is an adaptation to make it more visible at night (and thus less likely to be hit by cars), since skunks are relatively slow-moving and can’t dodge vehicles that easily. I have since heard from a number of other people that they have seen skunks with similar coloration.

Posted by Susan on 3/29


Posted by Ali on 3/29

Calm down, Ali.  I think you mean “stupid”?  If so, I am not aware that anyone called the video, or any skunks, stupid.  If anyone or anything has been “stuiped”, it isn’t skunks.  Please reread the comments.

Posted by Silk Kolb on 3/30

Bryon, I recall a neighbor having a pet skunk back in the 30’s…who knows how far back people were taming them and keeping them as pets.

Posted by Sandy Donohue on 3/31

This is not a personal encounter, but I recall an interesting story in Natural History Magazine from at least 20 years back: A researcher was testing whether a skunk is truly unable to spray when it is held up by its’(this is the possessive form of ‘its’;-) tail.  The writer described his catching and then lifting a skunk up by its’ tail when he was hit directly in the face with a solid stream of liquid!  What those researchers do in the name of scientific inquiry!  I hate to think of the clean-up aftermath of that encounter!

Posted by Bryon Satterfield on 4/1

Bryon, Hmmm, so would its’ be the word I needed to use in my story?

Posted by Sandy Donohue on 4/1

I trap skunks all year round and have caught as many as 150+ per year. After euthanizing them with a hypodermic I remove the esssence, pelt them (if in season), render the fat , and sell the skull. Then return the carass to mother nature so she can recycle it. Have seen many skunks afflicted with one disease or another. As populations go on the roller coaster so goes the human/animal interactions. Suburbia has become the perferred habitat for the striped skunks!!

Posted by michael on 4/2

No, Sandy, “its’” is not, in the US, the possessive form.
“It’s” - contraction, means “it is”.
“Its” - the possessive, means belonging to it.
“Its’” is just flat-out incorrect.

You can do an internet search for the two words to verify.  Use an authoritative source, not just any self-style “expert”.

Posted by Silk Kolb on 4/2

OK, it’s back to Sequoyah Orphan Training School for me! Errr, no, I won’t go back! No! No! No!

Posted by Sandy Donohue on 4/2

Here’s one of my most favorite classic quotes.  It involves a skunk and sounds like it might have been penned by Mark Twain, but I’m not certain of the origin:  “When you get in a fight with a skunk, you come out smelling like a skunk.”      I loved Karen Walker’s story about the skunk rubbing her legs softly like a cat would do.  That image will stay with me forever, softening the way I think about skunks hereafter.  I get a smile when I think about Sandy Donohue’s story of a mother raccoon adopting a baby skunk and protecting it as if it were one of her own brood.  I learned from Robert Killian about skunk oil being used in perfumes to make the scent long lasting.  (I also loved his story of his father de-scenting skunks.) I’ve known about ambergris from whales being used for that, since childhood, I think.  Whales are special to me, the logo for my dental office (I’m a dentist).  That is a comment on the virtue of respecting all life.

Posted by Bryon Satterfield on 4/3

I have a bottle of dental adhesive I never use any longer.  It must be 30 years old and still liquid.  I keep it because I always thought it smelled like a skunk.  I open it every once in a while and enjoy the scent, sometimes getting to share it with someone else.    Every time I smell a skunk while driving along, which happens pretty often living in The Woodlands, Texas, I never fail to mention it to my wife.  I hope they little critter didn’t meet their end on the road but just let go of a little of their essence, reminding me of their existence in the world along with my own.  Thank you everyone for your truly wonderful and varied stories.

Posted by Bryon Satterfield on 4/3


The correct spelling is “Stripes’” not stripies.  You should practice being nice instead of correcting everyone grammar.

Posted by Lisa on 4/4

Bryon - You are one of US! The select few! Most people don’t like the odor of skunk.  Some people are literally nauseated by the smell of skunk.  But then there are people like you and me who actually like it.  I love the scent of skunk musk wafting by on a summer breeze.  Research has found that it’s controlled by a gene that some of us are lucky enough to possess. 

(How cilantro tastes is also controlled by a gene.  Some like it.  Some, like me, think it tastes like soap.)

Posted by Silk Kolb on 4/4

Silk and Bryon-I am so happy I’m not alone! I think babies smell like roses—their fur and skin smells so good! Adults do too, and their spray reminds me of onions. Up close and personal is a stronger version, but their scent in the air is definitely onions.
And I love cilantro too! The greenest green smell in the garden (next to dahlberg daisies!). We used to have a red and white border collie who would roll in the cilantro in the garden. Guess he loved the smell too!

Had no idea that it was controlled by a gene!!! I just thought I was the odd girl out—now I have science to back me up!

Posted by Robin on 4/5

I was about 8 years old, at Day Camp in the hills east of Oakland, CA.  Day Camp ended with an overnight, no tents, sleeping bags on plastic tarps.  A skunk came out of the woods and curled up on the foot of my sleeping bag. I neither slept nor moved until I heard others moving around in the pre-dawn light.  There were a few holes chewed in the plastic tarp and the faintest skunk scent stayed with the sleeping bag at least a decade.

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Does anyone remember that in the early 1970’s having skunks and racoons as pets were a fad?  I recall seeing several skunks and racoons on leashes.  It seems they have personalities amenable to living with humans as pets.  I don’t see either animal any longer replacing dogs and cats.  I wonder if there was a problem?  I am thoroughly enjoying all the stories of encounters with skunks and eagerly open my latest email notice to see a new one!

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