The telltale of a skunk's presence is usually known only after the skunk has intentionally sprayed his scent to ward off a perceived threat. Among captive skunks, those who are de-scented have no odor to speak of, but a pet skunk in possession of his scent glands may release odor without meaning to.
Meet the Skunk
Eleven species of skunk exist, all in taxonomic family Mephitidae and all black with some form of white striping. Skunks were once thought to belong to the mustelid family, which includes weasels, otters, badgers and ferrets; but despite sharing physical characteristics with these animals, skunks’ larger scent glands and unique ability to aim and spray their stink sets them apart. Although different species of skunks have different patterns of stripes or spots on their fur, in general they are small nocturnal mammals capable of emitting an extremely strong, unpleasant odor when threatened.
Skunk Scent Glands
A skunk’s odor comes from two large scent glands located inside the anus, each of which has a nipple that allows the skunk to precisely aim as he sprays his unlucky victim. Occasionally, these glands will emit odor unintentionally, such as when a skunk is sick, injured or dying and lacks control over the anal glands. Startled skunks, mating skunks and young skunks might also sometimes release scent involuntarily in a manner similar to passing gas.
Although skunks use their foul scent to repel predators and other perceived threats, they usually do so as a last resort. In general, skunks provide plenty of warning prior to spraying, with body language and behavioral cues that include stamping their feet, charging and doing handstands. You can usually avoid getting sprayed by paying heed to these cues and giving the skunk a wide berth. This behavior is normal when a skunk feels threatened -- it does not indicate that a skunk is rabid. However, skunks are nocturnal animals who generally don’t make appearance during the day unless forced out of hiding by inclement weather. If you spot a skunk on a sunny day, a good chance exists that the creature might have rabies or distemper -- avoid the skunk, and report the sighting to animal control immediately.
Keeping Skunks as Pets
Some people keep skunks as pets. Pet skunk breeders usually have scent glands surgically removed when skunks are just a few weeks old. With proper training and care, which includes regular bathing and good hygiene, a pet skunk can make a fun, loving and sweet-smelling addition to the family.
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Jean Marie Bauhaus has been writing about a wide range of topics since 2000. Her articles have appeared on a number of popular websites, and she is also the author of two urban fantasy novels. She has a Bachelor of Science in social science from Rogers State University.