Skunk Spray Stinks! – Featuring Lollipop

Skunk Spray Stinks! – Featuring Lollipop


Hi guys! Welcome to Animal Wonders! I’m going
to start off with a question. What is your first reaction when you see this? If natural selection has done anything for
you, then you should have wanted to back away quickly, because you associated this image
with a horribly aversive stench. If you overcame your instincts and you reasoned out that she
cannot spray you through your computer: congratulations. You win. Skunks have an awesome reputation. These warning
colors are going to tell other animals: Stay away. Something bad will happen if you get
too close. Now, most of you have probably smelled a skunk smell before, and– but–
you know, most of you probably haven’t been actually sprayed by a skunk. That means someone
had to tell you that stench belonged to this animal right here. This little lovely is Lollipop and she’s a
striped skunk. There’s actually twelve different species in the Mephitidae family. This group of stinkers used to be classified
in the Mustelid family which includes otters and badgers and ferrets, but they have recently
been classified in their own family, Mephitidae. And there’s actually- there’s five common
ones, the striped skunk, the spotted skunk, the hooded skunk, the hog-nosed skunk, and
the stink badgers. All of them have a similar pattern: the black
with the white stripes or broken spots. They can come in different color morphs like grey
and cream or all white- albino – but most of them are black and white like this. And of course, they have that awesomely nasty
spray. Let’s talk about that. Skunks have amazing adaptation. Their anal
glands, which are located on either side of their anus, there, have evolved into a specialized
defense mechanism. When they’re threatened, they’re going to tense muscles around those
glands, which are going to send a fluid three meters out at their predator. The fluid contains a variety of low-molecular
weight thiols, which structurally are like an alcohol, but have sulfur instead of oxygen.
Humans and other animals have a very sensitive sense of smell towards the odor of low-mass
organosulfur compounds such as thiols, thioethers, thioacetate, and disulfides. Malodorous volatile
thiols are found in putrid food because they’re products of degrading protein. Often, thanks
to microbes feasting on amino acids cysteine and methionine. Now it’s crucial that humans are sensitive
to the smell of these compounds, so we’re not gonna be ingesting microbes and foods
that are gonna make us sick or they’re gonna be really hard for us to digest. So humans
can actually sense these compounds in concentrations of about ten parts per billion. That’s why
skunks have such a nefarious reputation. Alright, so I know that we all know that skunks
spray and I’m not surprised that most people stop at that thought when they think about
a skunk, you know, it’s a pretty potent thought, but I think that we should start exploring
some other interesting facts about their characteristics and their behaviors. I’d like to start by observing her physical
characteristics. We can clearly see her warning colors, but, if you look closer, you can see
that she has relatively small eyes. And she has really poor eyesight, which is okay because
she uses her keen sense of smell, and her acute hearing to discover the world around
her. You want down there? You can see that her body is low to the ground.
She has short legs and she has plantar locomotion in her back feet, nice and planted, just like
we walk on our feet, on all of her feet, and not up on her toes. And you can see that her
front claw… front feet, here, I don’t know if you can see this. Look at those claws! Now we can take a step back and observe her
body as a whole. She’s well-suited to living in dense forests, finding small prey items,
and avoiding other animals. Their distinct warning colors keeping other animals at a
distance. Now, skunks are mostly nocturnal, and they’re
gonna begin their day at sunset. They’re going to use their keen sense of smell to explore
the world around them. And unlike most prey animals, skunks aren’t going to spend a lot
of their time looking and listening for potential predators. They’re just going to rely on these
warning colors that keep those predators away. When an animal does get too close, on accident
or on purpose, Lollipop is going to go into her natural, instinctive defense mechanism.
Now we all know that she’s packing a heck of a punch, but she’s actually not going to
use her spray immediately. Instead, she’s going to go through a system of behavioral
warnings. This is how it’s going to go down. An animal
comes upon Lollipop; say it’s a dog. She’s going to immediately face that animal. All
of her fur’s going to stand on edge. She’s going to put her tail up, and she’s going
to start stomping. Little foot stomps. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Now, this is going to warn that
animal, saying “Hey! Hey! I’m here. Look at me.” So most animals, humans, and most animals
know those warning colors and they’re going to get out of there. Dogs on the other hand,
not so… not so much. So dogs are kind of irrational hunters and
they’re going to get really excited by just that slight movement and the smell of the
skunk. So they’re going to charge the skunk. So Lollipop, what her next move would be,
would be to hiss or growl and charge right back at that dog. Now, she’s not going to charge with her teeth
or her claws, she’s just going to charge at them to try and spook them away, and the pull
back and look to see if that predator’s gone away. Maybe throw a few stomps in there again. Now, if that still doesn’t scare this animal
away, and it doesn’t, because, again, this dog is going to get even more riled up because
of that, then some skunks — the spotted one are famous for this — They’re going to do
this handstand, where they pull their feet up– back feet up and they’re going to stand
on their front feet and they’re going to show off these warning colors right here. And so that’s going to be like “Seriously?
You didn’t see that I was a skunk?” And hopefully that animal, at that point, is going to run
away. Of course, again, we’re talking about a dog here, so it’s not going– the dog’s
not going to run away. So, the last thing that she’s going to do…
she’s gonna turn around, and she’s going to raise her tail up. And she actually… one
last step before they’re going to get sprayed is she’s going to turn and aim. Now, skunks
are really, really good at aiming. They– if they have enough time, they can accurately
shoot right at the face. And that’s what they’re going to aim for – right in the face of that
animal. If they don’t have a lot of time, they can also do a fanning effect as well. Now, when you’re hit by this spray, it’s an
oily substance, and say it gets right in your face, it’s going to burn your skin, it’s going
to burn your eyes, it’s going to make you go temporarily blind, and it’ll make you so
nauseous it’s probably going to make you throw up. So while you’re busy stumbling around, being
blind, burned, and throwing up, Lollipop’s going to get away with her life. Isn’t that awesome? So the reason that she’s
going to go through all of these behavioral warning signs before she actually sprays is
because she can actually run out of spray. They have about five or six shots before they
have to refuel, and that can take seven to ten days. So they don’t want to use up all of their
spray in one go, because if an attacker comes and they don’t have any spray left, that’s
going to seriously mess up their rep. Despite the skunk’s natural ability to protect
themselves, they actually have a relatively short lifespan. About two to four years in
the wild, and a lot of them don’t make it past the first year. Their top natural predator is the great horned
owl which is going to swoop down with silent flight. And their high mortality rate is also
due to humans. Cars, traps, poison, sport hunting, pest control, all those things, and
domestic dogs. Males and females are going to live a solitary
life except for when they come together in mating season, around February, and they’re
going to have their kits in May and then those kits are going to be weaned at about two months
old, but they’ll often stay with their mother for up to a year. Now, for those of you who are going to want
to shout out, “My grandmother told me to bathe in tomato juice if I get sprayed by a skunk.”
Seriously, has anyone actually taken a bath in tomato juice? It sounds like it would be
a lot harder than it sounds. Anyway, tomato juice isn’t the way to go.
What you should do is have a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and Dawn dish soap.
This mixture actually breaks down the thiols and the oily substance, effectively making
you smell less like skunk and more like human. So the next time you see a skunk, remember
there’s more to them than their reputation. Behind that black and white stripes, there’s
a whole set of characteristics and amazing behaviors and adaptations that make these
guys just a fascinating species. So, Lollipop would like to go snuggle into
bed now, so we’re going to go ahead and let her go on back. If you guys want to go on
an adventure every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and until then, if you have
any questions or comments, you can find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Last week: Hey guys, today we have a really
special person here, this is Dr. Card, and, um, she comes to take… Yo mama’s so stinky that she walks by and
the skunks get high. Yo mama’s so stinky she has to sneak up on bathwater! Yo mama’s so
stinky she was playing in the sandbox and a cat walked by and buried her.

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