When a curious caller from Baltimore asked us whether skunks were repelled by the smell of other skunks, we knew exactly who to call. Biology professor and skunk expert Jerry Dragoo knows more about skunks than anybody on Earth. In this episode of Science Update, he tells us that the entire Carnivora family, which includes skunks, dogs, lions, tigers and bears among many others, seem untroubled by foul smells that repel people (not news to anyone whose dog enjoys the scent of days-old road kill). But skunk spray is still effective against these family members, including other skunks, because of its irritant qualities.
Spotted skunks perform handstands before spraying, in case you need a very strong hint that they mean business.
Below is the original Science Update radio feature and transcript.
BOB HIRSHON (host):
Skunk vs skunk. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
[Pepé LePew clip] The cartoon skunk Pepé LePew was oblivious to his own stink, and listener Arthur Magida wonders whether skunks in general are immune. We asked University of New Mexico skunk researcher Jerry Dragoo. He says that skunks and other members of the order Carnivora, including dogs, don’t seem to mind the smell. But they are still repelled because the spray is an irritant.
JERRY DRAGOO (University of New Mexico):
If one skunk gets sprayed by another one, and it hits him in the face, gets him in the eyes, they do go through a lot of the typical behaviors you could see a dog do, you know, rub their face in the dirt, put their paws up to their face and rub it a little bit, so they are definitely affected by it when another animal sprays them.
If you have a science question, give us a call at 1-800-WHY-ISIT. Or email us from our website, science update dot com. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.
Story by Bob Hirshon
This is Jerry Dragoo’s website, a clearinghouse for skunk information and links to published research
PBS television’s award-winning series Nature featured skunks in this episode broadcast in 2009.