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Do Skunks Know They Stink?

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If Pepe Le Pew has taught us anything, it’s that skunks seem to relish their own stench, refusing to let it rob them of their self-confidence. The dual-striped creatures—there are 11 species in total— are mammals, and they defend themselves against predators by using anus-adjacent oil glands to shoot a plume of sulfurous stink at attackers. They can also aim it like a water gun with surprising force (over a 10-foot trajectory) and accuracy. But what happens if a skunk is sprayed by another skunk? And does the sprayer find his or her own smell offensive?

As it turns out, Warner Bros. cartoons may not be as scientifically accurate as previously thought. According to Jerry Dragoo, Ph.D., a mephitologist and head of the Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations, skunks do not find their own odor pleasant. At all. “Skunks do not enjoy the spray of other skunks,” he says. “A skunk’s sense of smell is stronger than a human’s, so the odor will be as offensive.” Like any other victim, a skunk will rub its face in the dirt, sneeze, or try to groom itself to get rid of the irritant.

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Out of courtesy, skunks usually warn one another of a pending squirt before firing away—and it’s usually a last resort. “Skunks rarely spray each other,” Dragoo says, citing the fact that few skunk-on-skunk conflicts are serious enough to warrant nature's mustard gas. Some juvenile skunks, however, might spray an adult, since mature skunks have been known to kill weaker passersby; females will also spray during mating season if a male is too aggressive in his courtship.

For any skunk, resorting to their special ammunition carries the risk of catching some stink shrapnel. “When skunks spray, they rarely get any on themselves, but it does happen,” Dragoo says. “Though they can tolerate [their own] smell, they do not appreciate getting it in the face and eyes.”

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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