Skunked

This is the 10 month old youngster who was warned off by the skunk

As I entered the parking lot of one of the parks, I glimpsed a coyote who hurried back into the park. It was well after dusk, so the coyote at that location did not surprise me. I parked the car and got out to an amazingly strong, pungent skunk smell. It was so strong it was bitter and I could almost taste it. I had a need to get away from it quickly. I looked around thinking I might find a dead skunk, but there was none.

Then I went into the park to check the media in a camera I had set up there: I exchanged media cards, and left. When I got back to the parking lot I looked around again for the skunk. There he was, as alive as ever and facing me. He did not scamper away, he did not turn his tail towards me to spray, he just stood his ground and faced me without moving. Aha — that is where the smell came from, and the skunk probably had sprayed the coyote.

And here he is — the fella that greeted me.

After I got home, I reviewed the media which showed, in the moments before I reached the camera, the coyote trying desperately to rub off the smell of the skunk. He must have been sprayed point-blank, right before I arrived at the scene. I’ve seen a dog do the same thing right after having been sprayed within reach of the skunk. It’s not just a repulsive odor which is emitted: the spray substance consists of an oily and acidic liquid, which at close range is so concentrated that it actually burns the skin and eyes of the hapless victim.

I have a very weak olfactory system, and anyway the skunk had not sprayed his defensive spray directly at me. Nevertheless, the smell was overpowering and repulsive and it encompassed over 100 square feet. Now imagine a coyote, with 100 times the odor sensitivity that we have, and imagine he was probably sprayed at pretty close range. That spray must have burned the little coyote’s face painfully and wickedly. That’s why he’s trying to wipe it off — to get away from it — which is what I had felt even though my experience was secondary and without a coyote’s sensitive equipment.

I’ve seen coyotes avoid skunks. I guess one experience like this might teach a coyote to avoid them. Here is a video of an almost “peaceable kingdom” — maybe the coyote has been through a similar experience? See “Ferdinand, the Coyote”: https://coyoteyipps.com/2011/08/17/ferdinand-the-coyote-by-charlotte-hildebrand/

Aside: This has me thinking about what I read in Rick McIntyre’s book, “The Reign of Wolf 21”. He suggested that wolf memory is in pictures, and references Temple Grandin’s *thinking in pictures*. I myself have learned that coyotes seem to remember EVERYTHING: all events, all dogs, all people. But I don’t think the memory is in pictures, or at least not predominantly in pictures. I think odors play a big role. And I say this because I myself have opened a long lost book from South America that retained the odors as I remembered them from elementary school 40 years earlier, and those odors recalled whole memories and events that I thought I had forgotten. It occurs to me that coyotes, with their large olfactory equipment and brain to interpret that material, actually form memories in a way we can’t image, that includes odors. Note that we’ve been able to record sounds and visual material (movies, recordings), but not olfactory ones, so we don’t have the ability to *see* or *remember* in the way a coyote does.

The smells in the book didn’t bring back memory images, but rather feelings and things I can’t put my finger on because I don’t have the human-created words for the overpowering sensations that were deep in my memory and suddenly awakened by the smell. Those memories were strongly brought back in the present and inspired all sorts of peripheral associations long buried in the deep of my mind.

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