The Reason Skunks Stink Is Even More Disgusting Than You Think

Skunks are one of the only cute and potentially cuddly animals you try to avoid at all costs. You know why: They emit a horrible spray from their anuses to ward off potential threats. But just what gives a skunk its signature stench? And what works to quell the scent after you’ve been doused in skunk spray? Hint: It’s not tomato juice.

Enter Anna Rothschild of PBS Digital Studios’ Weird Science to explain everything you ever wanted to know about striped skunks and their feisty, little rectums.

As Rothschild explains between vivid close-ups of skunk-holes and their anal-scent glands, the fetor of the mammal’s spray is all a product of chemistry.

“The chemical makeup of the spray is different depending upon the species” of skunk, Rothschild notes, “but all of them contain special kinds of compounds called thiols.”

Thiols are essentially a compound of sulfur (which smells terrible) and hydrogen atoms bonded together -- it’s in these vengeful chemicals where the wrath of all skunks can be found. Per Rothschild, we learn that there’s actually three of these awful smelling compounds present in striped skunk spray, and two of them smell downright nasty. There’s also the Thioacetates -- three of which are found in striped skunk spray -- which smell bad when they interact with water, meaning that washing your dog after it's been sprayed can make it reek even worse.

Okay, but as for the ultimate question in skunk-service-journalism: “What the hell should I do if a skunk ever sprays me?” A mixture of 3% hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of liquid detergent (i.e., soap), would serve you well.

The alternative: Adhere to the many warning signs exhibited by skunks -- hissing, stomping, lifting their tails,  before they spray -- they don’t really want to spray you after all.

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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster. 

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