OCT 13, 2016 11:45 AM PDT

What Makes Skunk Spray so Noxious?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Few animals are as notorious for their offensive smells as the skunk. Even though skunks are small in size, they more than make up for it with their noxious scent, which is strong enough to fend off much bigger predators like bears. But what makes skunk spray so foul?

The major chemical groups responsible for skunk's distinctive scent are known as thiols. These are organic compounds made by linking one sulfur atom to one hydrogen atom. And sulfur has classic gag-inducing powers (rotten eggs, anyone?). Thiols are also found in other smelly products, such as garlic and onions.

Skunk spray is highly concentrated in thiols, which can make victims feel burning or stinging in their eyes and nostrils. So concentrated is the spray that the scent can be detected at nearly half a mile away.

But because it takes skunks up to ten days to replenish their noxious ammo, these creatures normally don't waste their spray unless they feel really threatened. So, to avoid a smelly outcome, leave skunks alone and heed its warning signs!
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JAN 04, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Did Intelligent Civilizations Roam Our Galaxy 5 Billion Years Ago?
JAN 04, 2021
Did Intelligent Civilizations Roam Our Galaxy 5 Billion Years Ago?
Researchers have found that there were likely many intelligent alien civilizations sprawled across our galaxy billions o ...
JAN 13, 2021
Plants & Animals
Dwarf Giraffes Observed for the First Time Ever
JAN 13, 2021
Dwarf Giraffes Observed for the First Time Ever
The name “dwarf giraffe” certainly seems like an oxymoron, which is why scientists were shocked to observe t ...
JAN 21, 2021
Plants & Animals
Western Monarch Migration Near Extinction
JAN 21, 2021
Western Monarch Migration Near Extinction
Earlier this week, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported that the western monarch butterfly populati ...
MAY 13, 2021
Plants & Animals
Brood X Cicadas Are Here - Help Scientists Track Them
MAY 13, 2021
Brood X Cicadas Are Here - Help Scientists Track Them
Download this smartphone app to help document one of North America's natural wonders.
JUL 15, 2021
Neuroscience
Like Humans, Rats Help Friends Before Strangers
JUL 15, 2021
Like Humans, Rats Help Friends Before Strangers
Just like humans, rats tend to help members of their own social group before strangers. The findings may help researcher ...
JUL 30, 2021
Plants & Animals
Massive fossil Bonebed Discovered by a Ranger in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains California
JUL 30, 2021
Massive fossil Bonebed Discovered by a Ranger in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains California
Paleontologists gain another piece of California's past
Loading Comments...