On a hike through the woods of Wonderopolis the other day, we overheard a beaver and a badger telling a joke about a skunk:

Beaver:           Hey Badger! Did you hear the one about the skunk?

Badger:           *sigh* No, I didn’t, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.

Beaver:           Why did the skunk go to school?

Badger:           I have no idea. Why did the skunk go to school?

Beaver:           For show and smell! Ha ha ha!

Badger:           Wow. That joke really stinks!

Do you agree with Badger? Did Beaver’s skunk joke really stink? Even if you liked it, there’s one thing that’s for sure: skunks can really stink.

But it’s not the skunk itself that stinks. It’s actually a special spray that the skunk can release to defend itself from predators, such as wolves, foxes and badgers.

When a skunk feels threatened, it can squirt its special spray from glands underneath its tail. Skunks can accurately hit a target from up to 10 feet away!

A skunk’s spray is made up of oily chemicals called thiols. Thiols are sulphur compounds that can cause headaches and burning or stinging in the eyes. The worst part, though, is the smell.

If you’ve ever smelled skunk spray, you know how unpleasant it is! Some people have described the smell of a skunk’s spray as a combination of rotten eggs, garlic and burnt rubber. Phew!

It’s this horrible smell that sends the strong message to predators that says, “Stay away from me!” How powerful is a skunk’s smell? Very powerful! Even large bears will avoid tiny skunks to keep from being sprayed. Unfortunately, one predator — the great horned owl — has a very poor sense of smell and is rarely deterred by a skunk’s spray.

Skunks don’t spray unless they feel threatened. Their glands only hold enough spray for five or six strikes. If they use up all their spray, it can take up to 10 days to make more. Before spraying, a skunk will usually try other ways of scaring off a predator, including hissing, stomping its feet and lifting its tail to simulate a spray attack.

If you have a pet that ever gets sprayed by a skunk, don’t fall back on old wives’ tales that tell you to give your pet a bath in tomato juice. Instead, follow these “de-skunking” instructions to use a special solution of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid soap to clean your pet.

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Tomorrow's Wonder of the Day pays a visit to a colorful little critter!