Biker encounters adorable skunk family

Several readers called my attention to this video on Facebook, but reader Michael D. found it on YouTube and sent a link to some information about it. Most people who sent it know that I had a pet skunk when I was a grad student and postdoc. His name was Pinkus (after my father’s fraternity brother Irving Pinkus), he was descented, and I got him as a tiny skunk kitten, smaller than those shown here. Here’s the information from Laughing Squid about the video:

While riding along a path in Parc de la Pointe Taillon near Saguenay, Quebec last summer, bicyclist Francois Arsenault encountered an adorable family of skunks waddling towards him. Rather than panic and run, Arsenault very wisely decided to stay very still and let the little Mephitidic family sniff him out. Once satisfied the human was no threat, the skunks went on their merry little way.


Now if you know anything about striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), you’ll know that they’re peaceful animals who deploy their artillery only under extreme duress. They also can’t see very well, so you shouldn’t startle them. But this biker, contrary to everyone’s “OMG”s on Facebook, wasn’t in any danger if he sat quietly and let the skunks sniff him. Note the sounds they make when checking him out. By and large, though, skunks are pretty silent animals.

I’ve actually sought out encounters with wild skunks because I love them. They get a bad rap: they’re cute—in fact beautiful—they’re aposematic, and they help humans by eating garden pests. Years ago I was camping on an island off the Florida panhandle, and was told that the campground was full of skunks, and that campers should beware. That, of course, was a huge draw for me, and I bought a bunch of roasted peanuts to feed them. Sure enough, when I was eating at the picnic table at the campground, some skunks came around looking for a handout. (You’re not supposed to feed them, of course, but I was a SKUNK MAN.)

I pulled out my jar of nuts and began feeding them. More came, and soon I was literally awash in wild adult skunks. There must have been twenty or more. They took the nuts directly from my hands. Had I been bitten, I suppose I would have gone for a rabies shot, but I wasn’t. At night I buried peanuts an inch or so in the sandy soil all around my tent. And, as I hoped, throughout the night skunks came by the tent, snuffling, digging, and nomming. It was great. Some of them had a musty smell that I could detect inside the tent, but again, not a single one sprayed.

Two years ago, a skunk was feeding in my friend’s backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I walked behind it quietly watching it sniff and dig. (I kept my distance and made no noise.)

If you see a skunk, sit quietly, watch it, and don’t startle it. They are one of the few aposematic (“warningly colored”) mammals, and have few predators save raptors. who can strike before the spray. (I’m told that a struck skunk will still spray, but perhaps the birds can avoid it.) Skunks forage noisily (no need to hide!), and are pretty fearless. I wouldn’t get another one as a pet, for I think they need to be wild and not descented for the pet trade, but my love for this gentle creature has persisted. This biker was very lucky to have such an encounter.


  1. Martin Levin
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Delightful. My daughters once had a curmudgeonly cat who was uninterested in other cats, but became friendly with a skunk. The’d often be spotted (er, striped) hanging out and sometimes ate from the same dish together on the front porch.

  2. Damien McLeod
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Great story, I’ve had several encounters with skunks with out getting sprayed, although, once when I was a kid I got well squirted.

  3. GBJames
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    We had some living under our garage a few years back. Lovely little guys, although the fragrance was not so lovely. Just walking past the bedroom window at night was enough to wake you up.

  4. Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I love them too; but at a distance, please! 😉

  5. steve oberski
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Encountered 2 adults skunks on my bike at about 5:30AM this very morning who were walking down the middle of the street (not a lot of traffic at that time).

    They seemed alarmed by the bike light (1200 lumen Lezyne throws off a LOT of light) so I stopped and observed until they had headed off towards the nearest lawn undoubtedly with the intention of tearing up the turf in a search for tasty grubs.

  6. Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    In my subconscious, I think the cat that has adopted me is a skunk.

  7. alexandra moffat
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    where are they going in that quick step waggle? Carrying the good news from Ghent to Aix? What a hustle….

    • Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Lol! It is a very “Mr Magoo like” mode of walking.

      • Larry
        Posted August 19, 2016 at 2:17 am | Permalink

        Ah…the intrepid Mr. Magoo. Loved watching The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    They are also pretty good mousers.

  9. nickswearsky
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I had a pet skunk too! Stinky was hand raised from a tiny kit. He was very tame and very fond of women. He was fully capable of spraying, but never once did. I’ve always liked skunks since.

    • Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      That’s amazing–never a spray! But seriously, Stinky??????

      • nickswearsky
        Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        It was short for Stinkson.

  10. Carl Morano
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    i had a small skunk living in backyard in new jersey and i would put out leftovers for it it would come up my front steps at night for food and water and got used to me standing close by watching. once i had a tug of war with it trying to stop it from eating through a garbage bag. it was eventually run over on my street. I’ve had rabbits and possum live for a while in my yard and ended up as road kill. my pet peeve is the crazy high amount of road kill on surburban side streets. i suspect it’s intentional and I’ve seen cars swerve to try to hit racoons.

    • frednotfaith2
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      Pretty disgusting human behavior, taking perverse joy in murdering other creatures.

      Lovely family of skunks in that video!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      I rescued a painted turtle tonight. It was a young one that was trying to make it to a pond and it was sitting there in the middle of the road with its neck stretched out. I pulled over and ran to the turtle (who immediately pulled in its head and feet), picked it up & put it on the grass near the pond where it was headed. Last year, I was waiting for the traffic to stop and some ass went and ran over the turtle. It had to be on purpose because how could you not see the turtle on the road? I was so upset about it for days, having had a front row seat to the destruction and the horrible sound of the shell shattering.

      Saving the turtle today made me feel much better!

      • Larry
        Posted August 19, 2016 at 2:19 am | Permalink

        You are a good human being with a kind heart.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 19, 2016 at 3:16 am | Permalink

        That running-over may not have been on purpose – a turtle is not particularly conspicuous, I think, if the driver’s attention was distracted by something else.

        I know a few people try and run over animals – I don’t. I always manage to avoid hedgehogs (which are slow, and tend to curl up into a ball for defence). Possums (Australian origin, and a pest) I avoid if I can – the trouble is, they run erratically along the road at night, I’ll try to miss them but I’m not going to run off the road to avoid them if they swerve in front of me. Indian Mynah birds I always try to hit, secure in the knowledge that they treat it as a game – they coolly step out of the way at the last minute. I’ve never hit one yet.


  11. Flint
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Nice post, but this guy is a cyclist, not a biker. There is a serious difference.

    • Larry
      Posted August 19, 2016 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      I believe both are acceptable terms for bicyclists. In Kansas, Michigan, and California I used both and heard both. The use of “biker”, however, may need clarification in mixed company.

  12. Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I thought it was interesting how difficult it was to pick out individuals as they approached. This seems like a clear adaptation against raptor strikes, no?

    • nickswearsky
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      That makes sense for the little ones. Adult skunks are largely solitary. I’ve heard that owls are significant predators. They apparently get sprayed but do not mind (there was some thought that owls could not smell well, but that was shown not to be). Several anecdotes about Great Horned Owls that reek of skunk. I wonder if the coloration is not only aposematic but also breaks up the outline.

      • Achrachno
        Posted August 18, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        A biologist I knew who was banding large numbers of great horned owls for a project said that they virtually all smelled of skunk.

      • mordacious1
        Posted August 18, 2016 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I was taught in school, many decades ago, that most birds had little or no sense of smell and that owls could take out skunks because of their lack of an olfactory system. It turns out that this isn’t true. I read an article about this recently,

        I guess Audubon was responsible for this mistaken idea, or at least for promulgating it. In the meantime, natural gas engineers were using vultures to find leaks in gas pipelines, because vultures were attracted to the smell of the gas. Funny sometimes how science works.

  13. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    It occurs to me that if a raptor swoops down, grabs a skunk and takes off, the bird probably has its talons in the skunk’s back, so if it does spray, it’ll all be pointed away from the predator and just leave an airborne trail.

    When I lived in the south part of Evanston (right off the Evanston/Chicago town line), there was a heavily wooded area in the valley where the Skokie Swift rail line ran. It was full of critters, and I frequently smelled the result of an encounter between a car and a skunk – during the summer, it was at least a weekly event, so there must have been a lot of ’em. The valley is heavily fenced, so there isn’t much in the way of a human presence other than trains and track workers, so the wildlife is largely undisturbed, but the human areas are a major food source.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Forgot to sub.

    • David Duncan
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how many skunk strikes are repeats. Perhaps inexperienced birds take a skunk once and never again.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t want to be under that stream of smell!

  14. kansaskitty
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I lived in the country for many years, and a mama skunk and her little ones took up residence in the barn one time. Unbeknownst to me, my 6 month old kitty Pearl discovered them and she frolicked and played with the little skunks one entire afternoon. When I went looking for her, I discovered her with the skunks! I didn’t startle anyone and she was ready to come with me to the house. She did have to have a bath as she had picked up a very musky odor from the skunks!

  15. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I remember being charmed by a group of young skunks cavorting in the back yard. Took me a while to realize that meant they were living under the house.

  16. Dean
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    My experiences with skunks, limited as they are, have been rather unfortunate — because dogs.

  17. Christopher
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    The PBS program Nature aired an episode called “Is That A Skunk?” back in 2014 that you might have to seek out. As I recall, they visit a scientist researching the skunks on Martha’s Vineyard, and there’s a woman who rescues and adopts out orphaned pet skunks as well. Quite a charming little show.

    My only two encounters with live skunks were once in Boy Scout camp we had one run through our campground, with a pack of crazy boys chasing after it, but the best was a few years ago, driving in a rural area out near Belton, MO, I saw a mother and a half dozen or so babies scurry across the road; absolutely made my day!

  18. Posted August 18, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    occasionally we get quite an odor at night from skunks. We’ve seen them in the fenced backyard we have (very urban). Haven’t see one in the backyard recently but found a groundhog sleeping on my back patio this evening. I didnt’ think the buggers could climb or jump and also saw it have no problem in jumping up onto a chair and then onto the table to get some cat food I put out for a friendly feral. The gray squirrels also help themselves to the food.

  19. aldoleopold
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I raised and released around 30 of them back in my undergrad days – orphans mostly from mothers that were struck by traffic. They’re charming little comedians. The older ones never sprayed, but a couple of the little kits let out some potent aromas 😀

  20. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I had a pet skunk for a while, but he kept chasing after Miss Kitty and trying to kiss her…

    • mordacious1
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

      Oh la la mon cheri. Zee cabbage does not run away from zee corn-beef. I am ze captain, and you are ze first mate. Promotions will follow quickly!

  21. ToddP
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    My neighborhood is often crawling with skunks after dusk. They are cute and fascinating creatures, but always given a wide berth. The ones around here can become quite defensive (tail raised, feet-stamping) when they realize you’re standing there, though they usually skedaddle at the soonest opportunity.

    I think the defensiveness may be due to the number of outdoor cats roaming around here. Most nights we’re greeted by the delectable aroma of Eau de skunk after a feline/skunk encounter.

    I wonder who Jerry would pick in a cat vs. skunk debate? Cats are cool, but I’m on team skunk.

  22. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I love skunks because they just go along foraging, minding their own business. I’ve walked behind them in the city and they are rather calm. I had a dog when I was a kid who was friends with a cat that used to come in our yard. He’d run out to it and let it rub all over him. Sometimes he’d play with the cat by running full blast over it. One day, what he thought was his cat friend, was a skunk. He ran full on over the skunk and the skunk went rolling with it’s little legs in the air. My dog didn’t get sprayed (too fast) but he and the skunk were perplexed as to what happened.

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    They move surprisingly fast. And keep very close together. And they look kinda amusing when lolloping down the road as a clutser.

    ‘Mephitidic’ was an adjective I’d never seen before. From ‘Mephitidae’ (also new to me). ‘Mephitic’ I do know, their species name is quite apt.

    The Wikipedia page
    has a vivd description of the skunk by some Jesuit priest –
    “I mention it here, not on account of its excellence, but to make of it a symbol of sin.”
    (Of course the Devil could always be detected by his foul smell.)

    Yet another reason to like the little fellas. 😉


    • Posted August 19, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Amazing how people used to divide non-human animals that way … mice good, rats evil.

  24. madscientist
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    In Arizona I always enjoyed watching skunks on the few occasions they did happen to walk through the neighborhood. I was surprised to see that they even pranced just like Pepe Le Peu.

  25. Hempenstein
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    That’s really cool. I’ve never seen a clutch(?) of them out together like that, or really any live ones by daylight. I have them periodically at/near my place, tho, and having worked enough with thiols like mercaptoethanol as a biochemist, the odor only becomes bothersome if one gets hit on the road out front.

    I’ve caught them in my groundhog trap at times. I wouldn’t translocate the skunks except that I’m afraid that some of my notoriously dimwitted neighbors would figure they’re the result of my keeping the place more like a nature reserve than the fescue deserts a lot of them seem to like.

    They’re really easy to move once in a trap – just walk up holding a sheet in front of you – they don’t see anything alarming, and then you drop the sheet over the cage and put the whole arrangement in the back of the pickup and off to the more remote location. Many YouTubes on this.

  26. jahigginbotham
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Going home late at night i sometimes see skunks (much less common than raccoons). Here is a little one foraging in the evening at an outdoor concert at the Huntington Library.

    [I didn’t take it but do make a brief appearance in the background.]

    • jahigginbotham
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      from the youtube:
      Published on Jun 22, 2014
      A baby skunk decides he wants to join a couple enjoying their picnic at The Huntington Library Summer Evening (6/22/14). The skunk gets close and personal with both of them before taking over the blanket. BEST PART at 3:45

      • Posted August 19, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        Great film! I hadn’t seen that before. I would have sat there and enjoyed the skunk company.

      • Posted August 19, 2016 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        I love this! It’s hilarious and heartwarming. Good for the couple, not panicking at first sight. That music was really mellow and likely to the skunk’s taste too. Not into grapes though.

  27. Posted August 19, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I recently saw a skunk near my house in the Ecuadorian Andes, and it looked just like an American one. I wonder if it is the same species? If so, a very successful animal!

  28. Kenneth Sanders
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Most birds lack the sense of smell

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