Throughout the United States, skunks are hiding in cat-sized crevasses waiting to roam the night (or if you are reading this at night, they are roaming currently). These opportunistic animals are happy hunting insects and small rodents, foraging for berries, scavenging a convenient carcass, or making a mess of your trashcan. Over time, their versatility has allowed them to thrive in virtually every condition and take on urban sprawl with little impact on their population whereas other animals have been less successful at “fitting into society”.
Where most animals use camouflage to blend in, skunks are outsiders. If squirrels listen to Coldplay, skunks listen to Rancid and dress the part. Like our neighborhood punk rock aficionados, standing out is part of their visage and lets the rest of us know that they play by a different set of rules. Where their furry friends scurry to safety at the first sign of danger, skunks are more apt to mosey on brazenly until predators prove they are serious.
Despite their prolific presence in our environment, runner-skunk encounters are rare. Still, if you run enough miles, particularly at dusk or dawn, it is likely that you will see a skunk in your running career. If you get too close, you, and your social life will be immediately impacted.
While other mammals have the ability to create a musky scent for territory marking or mating purposes only skunks have the ability to spray their musk as a projectile. As anyone with experience can attest, their musk is by far the most potent. From glands in the skunk’s rear, the offensive fluid can be sprayed up to 12 feet with a good amount of accuracy.
Luckily the skunks’ spray is its last line of defense. With a limited supply of musk that takes roughly a week to replenish, skunks are reluctant to blast without a compelling reason. That said, it is not impossible for others to have to endure more than the standard post-run body odor if you don’t watch out.
Our chances of encountering the skunks’ sulfuric aroma comes most frequently from interactions with our four-pawed friends. Unfortunately, dogs are not evolutionarily endowed with the knowledge to avoid natures’ referees and their curious nature leads to some into nasty situations. For you trail runners who love having man’s best friend alongside, be extra diligent to keep Fido close by your side.
If you ever find yourself needing to clean up after a skunk encounter, we have the best remedy: a quart of diluted hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of baking soda, a teaspoon of liquid soap and long shower a is a proven solution to the funk. Direct hits may take multiple rounds of this recipe.