Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
Today’s nature quiz: When does a skunk dance stink?
The answer: When you stay too long to watch it, according to the National Park Service.
The NPS, feeling more than a bit of whimsy, highlighted the dancing abilities of the spotted skunk in an Instagram post that, as of Sept. 12, had more than 3 million views. The post showed a vintage clip of a spotted skunk dancing in the dark at Saguaro National Park in Arizona.
“More passion, more passion, more passion, more energy, more footwork, more footwork!
Too much passion. Pull back. Pull back. Nice footwork. Paw work? You might be asking yourself, ‘What am I looking at?’ That’s fair,” the post began.
Dance like no one is watching….
Did you know spotted skunks will sometimes go into a handstand and move around in an attempt to intimidate any would be aggressors… like this wildlife camera at @SaguaroNPS?#FridayFeeling #FindYourPark
📽️: Skunk dancing the night away. 💃🕺 pic.twitter.com/9QPLl0FwSA
— National Park Service (@NatlParkService) October 4, 2019
“It’s obviously a skunk doing a moving handstand. You were thinking it was some sort of mask with feathers? One of our favorite wildlife captures, this spotted skunk dances like no one’s watching…even when we are. Why the fancy footwork and big skunk energy (smell)? Because it can. Also, you’re too close and it has given you multiple cues to go away. Awkward,” the NPS wrote.
“The spotted skunk is usually polite enough to give a warning before breaking into dance. They stamp their front feet, raise their tail, and hiss. (Like you before every video call.) If they’re particularly annoyed (this call could be an email), that’s when they stand upright on their forelimbs and perform the unusual hand-stand dance. Same. Well, one time,” the post said.
“If the dancing handstand fails to intimidate (wow, nothing?), they will resort to the real room clearers: a pair of scent glands out back that spray a foul-smelling musk. If a local toot squirrel does approach you, calmly turn around and walk away. Avoid doing anything else that could be considered threatening,” it wrote.
Overt reaction to the show might not be a good idea, the post said.
“Yelling more passion, more energy, and more footwork will most likely lead to more spraying,” the NPS warned.
Random science fact: spotted skunks do cute handstands and little dances. Of course, the dance is called an intimidation dance, and it happens only right before they spray, so if you happen to see a spotted skunk doing a handstand and a dance, best to run the other direction.
— Shannon the Shenanigator (@ShannyGasm) December 5, 2020
In a 2020 Facebook post using the clip, the NPS tried to brighten the pandemic era by writing, “Practicing social distancing before it was cool.”
The NPS threw in a bit of education on the side, explaining, “There are different species of skunks, and they are all mostly solitary. This is understandable; when they feel threatened, nervous or attacked, skunks release a very strong odor that repels any creature within a few feet. Well, it happens to the best of us. For the sake of other animals, even from the same family, skunks prefer to go through life as free, independent individuals. So dance like no one’s watching…because well, everyone is indoors!”
That post baffled a few folks, including a poster using the name Marilee Ramsell who wrote, “For a moment, I thought this was some kind of indigenous dancer! Well, I was kinda right.”
A different user had a similar thought, writing, “I thought it was a tribal dancer wearing some sort of design on its back with a huge feather headdress.”
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) November 5, 2015
Skunks do not just spray randomly, one website warned.
“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 website animaldiversity.org said.
“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. Still, if you ever find yourself watching a skunk dance like this in person, don’t count on any second chances,” Russell McClendon wrote on the website Treehugger.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.