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.