"Do Skunks Like Their Own Smell?" And Other Stumpers!

Apr 12, 2019

Good Question! In this episode of But Why, we answer some questions that make us say, huh? Why do shoes get stinky? Why are little brothers so annoying? Also, why don't tow trucks have sirens?

Why don't we suffocate in cars when we're driving? How do we know where our mouths are? Why are there more boys than girls in books?  Do monkeys ever touch the ground? Why don't fish get electrocuted when lightning strikes? Where does the sidewalk end?   

Our experts include naturalists Mary Holland, author Grace Lin, primatologist Sofia Carrera, pediatrician Laurie Racha, Dan Goodman of AAA of Northern New England, and we hear the poetry of Shel Silverstein.

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"Do skunks like the smell of themselves?" -Chianshin, 7, California

"As often as I've encountered skunks--and even been sprayed by one--it's never occurred to me to wonder how the smell affects the skunk," says naturalist Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious. "I've always been more concerned with how it affects me!"

According to Dr. Jerry Dragoo, head of the Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations, skunks do not like the smell of their spray or that of other skunks.

Despite their reputation, Holland says skunks rarely spray other animals. "They only have a certain amount of spray inside and they have to go several days without it while their body manufactures more," once they've released their spray. "During this time, they are defenseless; so they only spray another animal if they are seriously threatened."

Skunks rarely get spray on themselves, but if they do they can tolerate it, Holland says. "But they don't appreciate getting it in the eyes or on their faces from another skunk."

Skunks actually have a stronger sense of smell than humans, Holland adds. So, if anything, the skunk suffers more than anyone who has had the misfortune of being sprayed!

"Tow trucks are emergency vehicles but why don't they have sirens like fire trucks, police cars and ambulances which are also emergency vehicles?" - Silas, 5, Nova Scotia

"The laws about sirens on different emergency vehicles are a state by state issue," says Dan Goodman, of AAA of Northern New England. Only two states, Missouri and Idaho, allow tow trucks to have sirens. In Canada, those rules are decided by each province. In many places town trucks do have flashing lights, usually an amber color, but colors can vary by state and province.

"There are times when sirens would be nice, because people know what sirens are and they know to slow down and move over," says tow truck driver Jason Akers, owner of Auto Clinic Towing and Recovery in Barre, Vt.  But, he says, in times where a tow truck is needed to clear the highway to re-open it the tow trucks can get a police escort to get to the scene of an accident safely. That's pretty cool too!

It is the rule in all 50 states that if you see an emergency vehicle in action, you have to slow down and move over to give those vehicles room.

Click listen to hear the entire episode! 

Credit Melody Bodette / VPR

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