I was on holiday last year in the US (Rhode Island) one morning sitting outside my friends back door admiring the view…they have a huge back yard sloping down to some woods when this skunk ambled into view about 30 feet away.
Laura, my friend, let out a shriek and scuttled back into the house like a startled rabbit.
Now I know/believe that skunks spray a foul smelling liquid as a defence but what does it smell like?
Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you smell it. BTW IMO from a distance (if one sprays say several blocks away) when I can just barely smell it, I don’t mind the smell at all, I almost like it. But not when it’s near by. Also, if it sprays really close to you it’ll not only stink, but sting your eyes and nose. That’s first hand knowledge. A few weeks ago I was asleep in my house. About 10 feet away from me was an open window with a fan blowing some cool air in. The smell/sting managed to wake me up it was so strong…and the house stunk for a few days.
As for the smell, I don’t really know how to describe it, other then it resembles the smell of a certain illegal substance…when the illegal substance is of high quality.
Until you asked this question, I hadn’t realized that skunks were unique to North America. Truly, visitors from other continents should make sure to experience skunk-stink inhalation at least once. The stench simply cannot be described.
Your best chance to savor skunky air is while driving lonely roads in the dark of night, since skunks are nocturnal and about as poor as raccoons at safely crossing streets. When flattened by a car, skunks invariably stink; I haven’t figured out if it’s because they become frightened and squirt in the instant before they die or if death itself causes relaxation of the muscles that normally hold in the stink-goo. Either way, it’s an olfactory treat not to be missed.
A pulp mill might be used for comparison. You can get a vague idea from the smell of natural gas - the gas itself is odorless, but a noticeable scent is added for safety reasons. They usually use mercaptans at a level much lower and less offensive than the related compounds the skunk produces. Imagine gas smell at an overpowering level.
When I drive through an area with some lingering skunk smell, usually from a roadkill that’s had a few days to age and mellow, I actually like the smell. It’s vaguely herbal; almost lemony.
But when it’s up close and fresh, it’s really impossible to describe.
A few years ago I was driving with some friends from from Chicago to Evanston. As we entered Evanston and were driving with the train embankment to our left, we smelled a pretty pungent skunk kill. On the side of the road we saw a freshly killed skunk. As we passed, I suddenly saw that there was a baby skunk huddled against the carcass as the traffic whisked by a couple feet away. I had my buckets in the car (I owned an aquarium design/maintenance company), so I pulled over, and with a bucket tipped away from me, reaching over it with a stick, I coaxed the baby skunk into the bucket. I was going to release it at a forest preserve. I wasn’t sure, by any means, that this would ensure its survival, but I thought it would be preferable to mooning on the shoulder. I put the bucket in my hatchback, with the back up, and drove away.
Driving 60 mph, with all the windows and the hatcback open, we were still almost unable to breathe. And I could barely drive for the stinging of my eyes. It wasn’t just a smell; it was a volatile gaseous substance. It was chemical warfare. It was vaguely analogous to garlic, in the way that the Wererabbit is analogous to a bunny. Garlic is to skunk what Barbie’s Malibu Dream House is to The Sears Tower in Flames. But that’s as close as I can come to a description: a monstrified garlic gas.
I left the bucket in the woods with the skunk. I hope it survived, but it was awful dang small.
I’m another one who likes the smell. Only in small trace doses, mind you. Like when you’re about an 1/8th of a mile from the scene of a vehicular skunkicide, or an 1/8th of a mile from my Dad after he’d experienced a full frontal spraying after opening the door to the chicken coop.
As any good girl from Humboldt, it is my obligation…nay…duty…to point out that there are various varieties of the cannabis genus that come damn close to smelling like skunk.
Moosehead. Heineken lager. A few others. Take the faint whiff that comes out when the bottle is first opened and multiply it about 10,000 times.
The odor, itself, is not really the problem. In very tiny doses it is actually piquant. (Very tiny and very brief doses.) The main problem with the actual spray is its intensity and persistence.
That said, I would never run from (or scream at) a skunk. Their spray is defensive and if you do nothing to make them feel threatened, it is extremely unlikely that they will spray.
The big issue, since they are somewhat shy, is that if they join your outdoor party, they may be rabid, since that unnatural behavior is a symptom of rabies. (At that point, I would retreat (without the shouting) and notify animal control immediately.
Not sure I agree with that. The shyness, that is. I’ve run across a number of skunks ( striped skunks anyway, spotted skunks might be different ) in my life and most have been absolutely fearless. Especially the suburban ones. Though the fellow that navigated the broken lock on my cooler up at Patrick Point State Park one night and went to town on some cheese seemed pretty impervious to intimidation as well.
Really, what do they have to be afraid of other than great horned owls and cars?
I will agree that shouting and fleeing in panic are poor strategies under any skunk situation. Last thing you want to do is panic the skunk - they have decent range and might outspray your retreat.
One year, I had a ton of lawn damage from skunks digging up grubs. Instead of researching the problem…the solution is to get rid of the grubs, and the skunk won’t bother digging anymore…I took it upon myself to get rid of the skunks. I set a ‘Have a heart’ trap overnight, baited with bread and vanilla extract (a known skunk treat) and proceeded, over 5 nights, to capture 5 skunks. My reading told me that while in an enclosed space, and trapped, the skunk will not spray. The odor is actually offensive to themselves. Taking that with a grain of salt, I gingerly placed a large plastic tablecloth over the trap…the skunk meanwhile, was making continuous circles looking for a way out…put the trap on the back of my four wheeler, and drove off about two miles into the woods. I released him (or her), returned home and re-set the trap for the next night.
You are probably thinking that I caught the same skunk 5 times, ain’t cha?
No, they were all different. Contrary to ‘Disney’ skunks, they are not slim like a squirrel. If you watch one waddle away from you, you’ll see that they carry a lot of spread out weight in their hind quarters.
Another tid bit…up close and pissed off, they will swing this fat ass around so that it is along side their head, and aim it like a gun, preferably at your eyes.
Tid bit two…from a pest control guy…he has removed skunks from private dwellings by calmly and quietly walking up to it and grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and getting it off the ground. With no legs under it, it can’t generate the pressure needed to spray. Take that info and make of it what you will.
Skunks…stinking up the suburbs for a thousand years.
There is a small zoo near us that has a couple of red foxes in an enclosure. To me the smell of the foxes is nigh indistinguishable from skunk smell, just not as intense. My sense of smell is not very acute though.
BTW I don’t think there is any problem running from a skunk, though unless you suspect the animal is rabid there is probably no reason to run from them.
They don’t go out looking for trouble, and in my experience are quite good at distinguishing behavior that threatens them from behavior that doesn’t threaten them. Running away is not in the least bit threatening, so I doubt you would be sprayed. But next time, try just walking quietly away, or even stick around and observe quietly.