If You See a Skunk Dance Like This, Get Away

spotted skunk on white background
Spotted skunks range across a swath of North America, from southern Canada to Costa Rica. (Photo: Jay Pierstorff/Shutterstock)

Skunks have achieved pretty strong brand awareness. Most people know about their pungent defense mechanism, and thus know to steer clear of these notoriously noxious animals. But in case anyone hesitates too long, some skunk species offer an extra warning before they spray: a handstand intimidation dance.

The Dance of the Spotted Skunk

These dances are performed by spotted skunks, a group of four species distinct from the more familiar striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). In the video above, a western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis) confronts a motion-activated trail camera at the Happy Valley Saddle campground in Arizona's Saguaro National Park.

"Like the other three groups of skunks, spotted skunks are capable of spraying a strong unpleasant scent as a form of defense," the National Park Service wrote in a 2015 Facebook post about the video. "But before spraying, spotted skunks will sometimes go into a handstand and attempt to intimidate any would-be aggressors like this wildlife camera, placed in Happy Valley."

The display begins with the skunk standing upright on its forelimbs, with its tail and hind legs up in the air, and may also involve other intimidation tactics like stomping, hissing, charging, scratching and aiming, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology's Animal Diversity Web (ADW).

In the video below, another western spotted skunk performs the handstand dance in front of a surveillance camera near California State Route 241:

This dance may not directly reveal the skunk's next move, but it's no idle threat.

The Spotted Skunk's Spray

If dancing fails to intimidate a potential predator, the skunk can resort to its real weapons: a pair of scent glands, one on each side of its anus, that spray a foul-smelling musk. "The skunk generally aims for the attacker's eyes, temporarily blinding it as well as assaulting its olfaction with the yellowish-colored butyl mercaptan-containing liquid, which can be ejected up to 10 feet," the ADW explains.

A spotted skunk can reportedly hold about 15 grams (1 tablespoon) of this oil, which is slightly different from the oil of a striped skunk, and release it in a rapid-fire burst of sprays. It may take a week to replenish the oil once it's depleted, though, so handstands could offer a more sustainable way to fend off troublemakers. In this video, a spotted skunk repeatedly uses this technique to repel a fox.

Still, if you ever find yourself watching a skunk dance like this in person, don't count on any second chances. Otherwise, you may need this recipe from the ADW:

"One remedy for skunk odor is 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide (from the pharmacy), 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid soap. Wash and rinse, keeping away from eyes, nose and mouth."