How Does a Skunk Spray?

To catch even a whiff of a skunk's defensive spray is a uniquely horrid sensation. This is due in part to thiol, a chemical compound mainly comprised of sulfur and hydrogen, which is found in the musky spray of skunks, as well as in many other sources of stink, such as onions, garlic, feces, and rotting flesh. The specific thiols found in skunk spray, (E)-2-butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, are especially volatile and dreadfully malodorous.

Skunks are able to eject their highly concentrated spray from their anuses with such force that it can cause temporary blindness when predators are sprayed directly in the face. Additional compounds in the spray, known as thioacetates, activate once they are exposed to water, which makes attempts to wash the spray off even smellier. Applying a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, which oxidizes the volatile thiols, effectively neutralizes the smell.

skunk raising tail to spray

Why Do Skunks Spray?

Although they possess sharp claws and pointy teeth, skunks prefer not to fight when confronted with danger. Instead, skunks try to look tough by stomping their feet and vocalizing. They use their spray as a last line of defense and can accurately hit a target from up to 10 feet away. While the target is bewildered, disoriented, and potentially blinded from the spray, skunks use the opportunity to escape.