What Does a Skunk Smell Like? Omnivorous in nature and recognizable by their black fur with white markings, skunks are perhaps best known for the pungent smell they emit. Typically shy and more active during the evening, skunks have the ability to spray an oily liquid stored in their anal glands up to a distance of 12 feet. But what makes it smell so badly? Skunk spray includes chemicals known as thiols, which are compounds that contain sulfur. These chemical compounds give the liquid its musky stench that can be smelled up to a mile away in certain environmental conditions. Defense Mechanism Skunks typically use their spray as a last defense against predators. Before a skunk decides to spray, it will usually first stamp its feet on the ground, then raise its tail in warning. In extreme circumstances, skunks have been known to use their sharp teeth and claws in defense, as well. The cat-sized mammals can actually aim the liquid when spraying, and they try to spray as little as possible since replenishing the glands can take up to 10 days, leaving the animals vulnerable in the meantime. While the spray is rarely permanently harmful, it is extremely difficult to remove and can cause irritation to the skin and olfactory senses. Skunk spray can even cause temporary vision loss.