Spotted skunk does handstand

November 17, 2015 • 7:30 am

We’ll delay “Readers’ Wildlife Photos” till tomorrow (send more in, folks!), as Matthew has alerted us to the antics of the spotted skunk (Spilogale sp.; there are four species inhabiting the southern US, Mexico, and Central America).

by Matthew Cobb

This was tw**ted by the US Department of the Interior (@Interior), and posted on Vine with the caption “Ghost? 👻 No, it’s a spotted skunk trying to scare away aggressors at Saguaro National Park”. Anybody seen anything like this before?

JAC: I’ve added the video below, taken from the BBC’s show “Weird Nature”. I used to have a pet striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), but knew that the spotted—but not mine—did handstands.  They do this not to squirt, but to intimidate enemies by making themselves look bigger and displaying their aposematic (“warning’) pattern. My own (descented) skunk, named Pinkus after my father’s college fraternity brother, would puff up his fur and tail and stomp his feet loudly on the ground, as does the spotted skunk at 1:00 in the video:

There are two other types of North American skunks: the hog-nosed skunks (Conepatus spp.) and the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura). Here they are, respectively:

Hog-nosed skunks get their name for obvious reasons.
hooded skunk-172
A hooded skunk in full display. If you don’t leave it alone after seeing this, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

And here’s a young striped skunk for good measure:


ADDENDUM: In case you’re wondering what chemicals go into skunk spray, here’s what Wikipedia says:

Skunk spray is composed mainly of three low-molecular-weight thiol compounds, (E)-2-butene-1-thiol, 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, and 2-quinolinemethanethiol, as well as acetatethioesters of these. These compounds are detectable by the human nose at concentrations of only 10 parts per billion.


Here’s a nice video on how they spray:

20 thoughts on “Spotted skunk does handstand

  1. This is great! Despite living in a state with all four North American species, I have yet to be fortunate enough to find a Spotted Skunk.

  2. Jerry I know you’ve mentioned your pet skunk before but I’ve never thought to ask – what was it like? How intelligent was it compared to cats and d*gs? How sociable? Are there any notable personality traits that skunks have that are different from these standard pets?

      1. He was litterbox trained, he was very personable. Very fond of women, but with men he would often stamp his feet and show off. He loved having his back scratched and would come to heel when I snap my fingers. He slept a lot in winter and you couldn’t leave anything on the floor as he would tear it apart. Never descented he never once sprayed.

    1. It wasn’t that bright (I describe it briefly in WEIT), it was loving and friendly, liked to sit on my lap, was box trained and omnivorous (though I fed it a good diet). The one problem was that it got enormously fat in the fall, as it probably used day length as a cue for storing up resources (they don’t hibernate but they do estivate).

      I can’t say it was nearly as smart as a cat or dog, but, as my vet told me when I pointed out how dim Pinkus was, “Dim? Hell, he’s perfectly adapted for being a skunk.” With that armamentarium, skunks don’t need brains!

      I had Pinkus 6.5 years, and he never bit. He was a sweetie. But I felt bad having a wild animal (though it was bred in captivity), and I probably will restrict myself to cats in the future.

    2. I seem to remember that PCC(E) has previously described his skunk as nice, but dumb. Thre phrase “dumb as a rock” sticks in my mind, which might be a slight exaggeration. Or PCC(E) has met some remarkably intelligent rocks.
      (My memory might be faulty.)

  3. Camping on a beach in Baja, a Spotted Skunk walked over my friend who tried to brush it away, resulting in the most ferocious assault on the senses imaginable. Nothing exists in the world but “MY NOSE!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY NOSE?”.
    On the other hand I met a rancher in Oregon who had a Striped Skunk living in his house that was the sweetest, most affectionate and playful pet. Much like a c*t.
    I had another friend who had a full length skunk fur coat.

  4. Have I seen this? Yes. Spotted skunks are very common in San Diego, and I used to live there. One evening I was walking across a parking lot at night and a spotted skunk happened to also be crossing it. It charged me, and as it ran it started to rear up to do its hand stand.
    I did not stick around to see the full-on display. What was hilarious was that these animals are actually pretty small – but, I, at 6’2″, ran like a bear was chasing me.

  5. Instead of boring plain arrows indicating the route through stations during a practical exam, I draw animals on the chalkboards, along with the directional arrows. For the “room of Musteloidea,” I draw the spotted skunk in the handstand posture. The students all think I’m making it up. Ha!

  6. I had the little stinkers get into my crawlspace and eat into my HVAC ducts last winter to get some heat. A trace odor still lingers, in spite of my best efforts to clean it up.

    I did feel a little sorry for them, though. They were probably displaced from the construction of a Walmart and other developments nearby.

    1. The recommended means of removing skunk odor is reaction with hydrogen peroxide, a reaction that is accelerated in the presence of bicarbonate ions. The peroxide oxidizes the thiols to less volatile/smelly sulfur compounds.

      I don’t know if this would be appropriate for cleaning a crawl space.

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