“Skunks on a Mission: The Smell of Love”: A Discovery Blog for Families

By Chloe Vessels

Have you ever noticed how every February, there seem to be many more skunks than usual? You are more likely to spot them wandering about at dusk and nighttime. Tragically, you will also start to see the victims of vehicles on and near every road. Today, we are going to uncover the simple reason why surfeits of skunks seem to be in abundance: It is the season of love.


Striped Skunk Pair – Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

Right in time for Valentine’s Day, the skunk mating season begins. This means that male and female skunks search for one another so that they can start a family! It is common for there to be rivalries between the male skunks, which often leads to fights and the spraying of a smelly chemical called N-butyl mercaptan in an attempt to ward off the competition. Female skunks have been known to spray this chemical during the mating season as well, to show a male that she does not want to become his partner. This scent is an excellent defense mechanism, as well as a successful offensive tactic. The smell of a skunk’s spray is noticeable for several miles around the area where the compound was released. In the case of the mating season, you can refer to the stench as the smell of love (or hatred, depending on how you look at it).


However, as you may already know, skunk spray is typically the last resort in times of tragedy. While these furry creatures venture off to locate a mate, human activity does not stop; vehicular traffic doesn’t cease, and unfortunately, many skunks are hit by cars and killed while they are seeking a mate. The little animal will spray from fear, but in the case of human machines, this defense mechanism fails the skunk.

Let’s move on now to a lighter note: skunk litters! When two skunks decide to begin a family together, they will soon have a handful of teeny babies who are black and white, just like their parents. Once this litter grows up, they will be known as a surfeit or a group of adult skunks. The cycle will then start all over again, with the trials of a February mating season and the subsequent adorable joys of a new litter of skunk kits.

Striped Skunk – Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

It is almost time for you and your family to enjoy an eco-friendly skunk craft! Before it’s time for this fun activity, however, we will quickly review our Discovery Lesson: Today, you learned about skunks and their distinctive spray. Discuss the following questions with your grownups: How do skunks use their smelly defense mechanism? Why do you see so many more skunks around Valentine’s Day? Can you remember what a group of skunks is called? Finally, if you were a furry little creature, what defense mechanisms would you want to have?


Fun Fact: Spotted Skunks – who are present in Kentucky, but are much rarer than the common Striped Skunks – do handstands just before spraying when they feel threatened! This is an incredible intimidation tactic!

Your Turn! (Craft and Observation Prompt): Follow the link from In the Bag Kids Crafts and make your own skunk-y friend with recycled newspaper!

For your observation challenge, the next evening that you go outdoors or you are doing some nighttime traveling in a car, keep your eyes peeled for these fascinating creatures! Pay attention to the behavior of any skunk that you may see; perhaps you will be inspired to make artwork or write a story about your skunk encounter.

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