An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide –

Two-month-old Striped Skunks Can Spray!

7-15-15 striped skunk2 058The answer to yesterday’s mystery photo is a lot less original than many of your guesses, all of which could have been true, given my natural curiosity. I am embarrassed to admit that it was the oily, yellow spray of a young striped skunk that covered my spectacles (and my entire head, arms and camera) – even with ample warning, I chose to persevere in order to get the perfect picture. Unfortunately, the skunk was a lot more successful at his mission than I was at mine.

There is a reason why coyotes, foxes and most predators (one exception is the great horned owl), including most sane photographers, keep their distance from striped skunks. Whether newborn or several years old, skunks are capable of using their musk-filled anal glands to ward off anything that threatens them. Skunks are generally reluctant to spray, however, as they only have a few teaspoons (half an ounce) of musk in their glands, and once their supply is depleted (five or six sprays), they are defenseless for about 10 days, while it builds up again. Hence, plenty of warning is given in the form of stomping front feet, erect hair, raised tail, and chattering before a skunk contracts the muscles surrounding its anal glands and shoots a pungent, yellowish spray as far as ten feet away. Only a fool would not heed the warning given…and be forewarned – a skunk’s aim is surprisingly accurate.

The organic compounds that make the smell of skunk spray so offensive are called thiols (mercaptans). Thiols are also found in garlic and onions, and form parts of the keratin in hair. If your dog or you happen to be at the wrong end of a skunk’s partially everted anus, the best combination to neutralize the musk smell is 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. (Thanks (?) to Tom Ripley for photo op.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

16 responses

  1. Marilyn

    It was relatively recently that I learned (not first-hand!) that skunks can spray in the direction they’re facing.

    July 15, 2015 at 8:18 am

  2. Laurie Spry

    Well! I never knew the particles were large enough to see. Good to learn this in a vicarious way; thanks, Mary!

    July 15, 2015 at 8:28 am

    • Trust me, you have to be mighty close to see globs of yellow!

      July 15, 2015 at 8:48 am

  3. Poor you, Mary! What a smelly way for you to discover yet more intriguing facts for us blog-appreciators! Thank you once again :-))

    July 15, 2015 at 8:30 am

  4. Patricia Jaquith

    Thank you, Mary, for going the extra mile for your readers! Unlike most dogs, I do hope we have learned this lesson you’ve taught us.

    July 15, 2015 at 8:40 am

  5. Oh, I am so sorry that “skunk” was the correct answer! Hope you’re feeling better and mostly descented. I ran into a very young skunk two summers ago–just stumbled upon it accidentally–and it moved as if to spray, but then didn’t. I wondered if maybe they don’t spray when they’re that young. Sorry to find out I was mistaken.

    It is an adorable face though, and a great picture!

    July 15, 2015 at 9:08 am

  6. My sympathies. But a very funny (and educational!) commentary. Hope you’re all cleaned up by now.

    July 15, 2015 at 9:31 am

  7. Jennifer Sawyer

    Oh my word Mary… Is there ANYTHING that has worked well on the “eau de skunque”…? Poor you… But what a GREAT sense of humor to work it into your blog… Best… Jenny Sawyer

    Sent from my iPad


    July 15, 2015 at 10:45 am

  8. I just wanted to report, from first-hand experience, that the recipe Mary offered is indeed very effective at getting rid of skunk malodorousness. My sister’s dog’s curiosity got the best of us all about midnight last Thanksgiving, much to our dismay. We found this on the internet, mixed it up, bathed her with it thoroughly, and were pleasantly surprised that it really worked!

    July 15, 2015 at 12:26 pm

  9. Alfred

    Mary, I’m glad you had your glasses on! xx oo AB

    July 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

  10. Cecelia Blair

    In a downpour in Brattleboro on a side street, I saw several people gathered around a small body. I got out to see if I could help. It was a baby skunk overcome by the rain and cold. No one would touch it. I scooped up this baby ,wrapped it in a towel and held it on my lap for an hour in the car until it started moving. I stopped by the Humane Society where I had once worked and learned that baby skunks can spray, that I shouldn’t have it and that no one helps them. Also that their front claws are razor sharp. That was good information! I was given a can of cat food, however, as I asked for something, and took it back to the steep bank by the place I found it. There I made a tent out of trash bags over a log and put out the cat food. The baby started eating. I reluctantly left it on its own in case its mother might still come. Next day there was no sign of it and the cat food had not been finished, so maybe another animal took it. Was the best I could do then.

    July 17, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    • I’d say you did very well, indeed. Lucky skunk.

      July 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

  11. Lila Ollmann

    Oh man 11

    July 20, 2015 at 9:21 am

  12. Lila Ollmann

    Oh good, but it is a good time

    July 20, 2015 at 9:35 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s