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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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Animals
10 Notable Gestation Periods in the Animal Kingdom
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The gestation periods of the animal kingdom are varied and fascinating. Some clock in at just a few weeks, making any human green with envy, while others can last more than a year. Here are 10 notable gestation times for animals around the globe. The lesson? Be thankful that you’re not a pregnant elephant.

1. ELEPHANTS: 640-660 DAYS

Elephants are pregnant for a long time. Like really, really long. At an average of 95 weeks, the gestation period is more than double the length of a human pregnancy, so it shouldn't come as a shock that female elephants don't often have more than four offspring during their lifetimes. Who has the time?

2. HIPPOS: 8 MONTHS

A photo of a mother hippo and her baby in Uganda

Yes, it takes less time to make a hippopotamus than it takes to make a human.

3. GIRAFFE: 14-15 MONTHS

Baby giraffes can weigh more than 150 pounds and can be around 6 feet tall. Another fascinating tidbit: giraffes give birth standing up, so it's pretty normal for a baby to fall 6 feet to the ground.

4. KILLER WHALE: 17 MONTHS

There’s a reason for the long wait: after that 17 months, Baby Shamu emerges weighing anywhere from 265 to 353 pounds and measuring about 8.5 feet long. Yikes.

5. OPOSSUM: 12-13 DAYS

A baby opossum wrapped up in a blanket

Blink and you'll miss it: This is the shortest gestation period of any mammal in North America. But since the lifespan of an opossum is only two to four years, it makes sense.

6. GERBILS: 25 DAYS

Hey, they get off pretty easy.

7. GORILLAS: 8.5 MONTHS

It's not a huge surprise that their gestational periods are pretty similar to ours, right?

8. BLACK BEAR: 220 DAYS

A pair of black bear cubs

Also less than a human. Interestingly, cubs might only be 6 to 8 inches in length at birth and are completely hairless. 

9. PORCUPINE: 112 DAYS

This is the longest gestation period of any rodent. Thankfully for the mother, porcupine babies (a.k.a. porcupettes) are actually born with soft quills, and it's not until after birth that they harden up.

10. WALRUS: 15 MONTHS

Baby walruses? Kind of adorable. They certainly take their sweet time coming out, though.

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Animals
Goldfish Can Get Depressed, Too
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Don’t believe what Pixar is trying to sell you: Fish are not exactly brimming with personality. In aquariums, they tend to swim in circles, sucking up fragments of food and ducking around miniature treasure chests. To a layperson, fish don’t appear to possess concepts of happy, or sad, or anything in between—they just seem to exist.

This, researchers say, is not quite accurate. Speaking with The New York Times, Julian Pittman, a professor at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Troy University, says that fish not only suffer from depression, they can be easily diagnosed. Zebrafish dropped into a new tank who linger at the bottom are probably sad; those who enthusiastically explore the upper half are not.

In Pittman’s studies, fish depression can be induced by getting them “drunk” on ethanol, then cutting off the supply, resulting in withdrawal. These fish mope around the tank floor until they’re given antidepressants, at which point they begin happily swimming near the surface again.

It’s impossible to correlate fish depression with that of a human, but Pittman believes the symptoms in fish—losing interest in exploring and eating—makes them viable candidates for exploring neuroscience and perhaps drawing conclusions that will be beneficial in the land-dwelling population.

In the meantime, you can help ward off fish blues by keeping them busy—having obstacles to swim through and intriguing areas of a tank to explore. Just like humans, staying active and engaged can boost their mental health.

[h/t The New York Times]

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