Article: Why are skunks black and white? Print

why-are-skunks-black-and-white-400You’d think that any animal as stinky as a skunk would want to slink away in shame and disguise itself, but the exact opposite is true. And to understand skunks better, it helps to understand why most other forest animals appear in far less flashier colors. It’s not because raccoons, chipmunks and other critters like being fashionably modest with their gray and brown fur coats — it’s because they need to survive. Their muted colors help them blend in easily with their surroundings and hide from enemies.

Skunks, on the other hand, are a whole different matter–they have no need to fear predators because predators are too busy fearing them! And the skunk’s distinctive black and white colors ensure that potential enemies make no mistake about who they’re messin’ with. A skunk literally raises a BIG stink when defending itself–it sprays foul-smelling liquid musk from the scent glands under its tail. As if the odor weren’t bad enough, the oil can sting predators on impact. In most cases, a confrontation doesn’t even reach this point because the flash of a skunk’s bright black and white pattern is enough of a warning!

One predator, however, won’t be stumped by skunks. It’s the great horned owl, and it doesn’t give a hoot about the skunk’s foul odor because it doesn’t have a strong sense of smell. These owls also have special membranes that slide across and protect their eyes from a skunk’s burning liquid musk. So you might say a skunk’s defenses amount to a whole lot of “non-scents” for owls!

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