Why Do Skunks Stink Terribly?

Skunks are infamous across the world for their unpleasant, stinging spray – but what makes skunks smell so awful? And why should you really avoid it, if at all possible?

Having a skunk problem on your property? Reach out to Wildlife X Team Tulsa to schedule a visit today! Because skunks are highly accurate shooters, and since their spray is a job and a half to get out of, we do not recommend attempting to tackle a skunk invasion on your own. Rather, save yourself the trouble, and hire a professional to return your property to its skunk-free bliss.

Now, let’s talk about skunks a bit.

They don’t spray as much as you’d expect.

A steady diet of cartoons has taught us that skunks go around spraying that awful scent willy-nilly, but the reality is quite far from that. In truth, skunks tend to avoid spraying their awful stench around, since they only ever carry a limited supply of the stuff. Spraying it all in non-lethal situations risks leaving them without protection for a few days (up to 10), while their spray reserves recharge. And the skunk isn’t an overly fierce critter to begin with, so without its spray, it’s left pretty much helpless and deeply vulnerable. So the skunk will avoid that, as much as it can, and will only spray predators sporadically, when it absolutely must.

Also, it’s worth noting that skunks will never spray other skunks, but only predators they deem dangerous, who refuse to get the “stay away” message.

What’s in the skunk spray?

Many people wonder what exactly the spray contains that makes it stink so awfully. Basically, skunk spray is a thiol, which is an organic compound that has sulfur as its primary component. This is what gives skunk spray that rotten egg stench, and also what gives it its stinging quality.

Skunk spray is really potent, and can be smelled from half a mile away, thus alerting nearby predators to leave the skunk alone. Not that the skunk actually needs to release the scent to ward off predators – its coloring does that for him.

Did you know that the skunk’s tell-tale black and white coloring is used to point at the skunk’s anal glands, which is what it shoots from? So the skunk doesn’t actually need to spray to let the world know it’s dangerous. Its anatomy does that effortlessly.

How dangerous is skunk spray?

Many homeowners confronted with a skunk on their property will, understandably, ask this question, wanting to know what kind of danger they’re in. well, the good news is skunk spray isn’t actually toxic for you, so it won’t kill you, or have long-term effects. However, because of its sulfur-heavy composition, skunk spray can be very stinging and cause a deep burning sensation when it comes into contact with sensitive areas, like the eyes, nose or mouth. In some cases, skunk spray has been known to cause temporary blindness when shot directly at the eyes. This is why you generally want to avoid skunks, especially since they can spray from quite a distance (up to 15 feet).

Skunk spray can also cause temporary nausea or even vomiting, since the thiol activates our gag reflex.

The real trouble with skunk spray, however, isn’t the immediate effect, but rather what happens when it gets into clothes or fur. Once in there, skunk spray can linger for a very long time, which is why in some cases, an altercation between a skunk and your pet can be even more unpleasant than one between a skunk and yourself. It’s because the skunk spray smell will linger on your pet’s fur, causing quite a stench.

So what can you do?

If there is a skunk on your property, the best thing to do is keep your distance. As mentioned, skunks aren’t all that eager to spray you or your pets, but they will if you don’t leave them alone, or if they start feeling threatened.

Because of this, live trapping or other common wildlife removal methods also don’t work on skunks, and should be avoided, leaving the job of skunk removal up to a qualified wildlife removal professional with the necessary experience.