A friendly skunk

by Timothy W. Donohoe

Raum für Experimente (Ausgabe III/2017)


Illustration: THEPALMER

Take tomato juice - and a lot of it! Rub it in everywhere, whether on pets or humans. This has been the recipe against the grotesque sulfur secretion of the North American skunk for generations. To defend itself, the “Striped Skunk” sprays a mixture of substances rich in alkanethiol up to six meters from two anal glands. The omnivores live on the outskirts of the city and scavenge in trash cans and pets feeding bowls at dusk. The English word "skunk" probably comes from "seganku" from the Indian Algonquin language and is made of the words for "urine" and "fox".

The skunk appears in the legends of the indigenous people. The Winnebago tribe in Nebraska, for example, told of a girl who fends off a wise turtle and becomes a skunk as a punishment. In the fairy tales of the Chippewa, the Skunk warns of death in the swamp area. And the name Chicago developed from “shikaakwa”, as the Cree and Chippewa west of Lake Michigan called the striped animal. Skunks are also recurrent figures in US pop culture: for example the comic character Miz Ma’s’selle Hepzibah or Pepé Le Pew from the cartoon series of the same name by Warner Brothers. By the way: tomato juice only helps to a certain extent against the smell of skunks. The mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dishwashing detergent actually works better.

Translated by Jess Smee

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