Thursday, January 19, 2012

Well, that stinks.

Today was a stinky day.  Not that I had a hard day at work, mind you, rather I encountered two animals today that can be rather smelly. I found a green stink bug hiding in some leaves, and was relieved that he was too cold to live up to his name. I did however smell a red fox, whose odor is very similar to a skunk.  So given these smelly signs, this week I wanted to highlight two of nature's smelliest plants and animals, both of which can clear a room faster than my friend Paul can download the Phillies font to use illegally on his sports blog (watch out Paul, SOPA is coming for you).  The striped skunk and corpse flower may both stink, but their reasons for doing so are complete opposites.

The Striped Skunk
Which is more potent: a skunk's smell, or...

its cuteness?

Ah yes, the beloved striped skunk.  There are six species of skunk in North America, all of which can produce a strong smelling liquid, or musk, to scare off predators and annoyances, such as my neighbor's dog.  The distinctive musk comes from two glands on either side of the skunk's anus (yes kids, The Nature Geek just said anus!) and in the striped skunk at least, contains sulfur, among other delightful odors.  As if the smell isn't bad enough, the skunk can hit its target up to 12 feet away, and with a pretty impressive degree of accuracy.  If the skunk is really lucky, the musk will get in its pursuer's eyes and cause temporary blindness.

By the way, how do you remove the remains of this offensive odoriferous onslaught?  Tomato juice?  Scientists say nope. Apparently the only reason we think tomato juice works is because our noses have been so overwhelmed by the skunk's musk, that they stop smelling it altogether, a phenomenon known as olfactory fatigue.  You may not smell the skunk on your dog after giving it a tomato bath, but anyone visiting your house would smell it right away. "Ok smarty pants scientists, so what does work?" Apparently it's all about giving the musk some extra oxygen, thusly:

•  Bathe the animal in a mixture of 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (from drug store), 1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and a teaspoon of liquid detergent. 
•  After 5 minutes rinse the animal with water. 
•  Repeat if necessary. 
•  The mixture must be used after mixing and will not work if it is stored for any length of time. Since it releases oxygen, it cannot be stored in a closed container. For inanimate objects one cup of sodium hypochlorite solutions (liquid laundry bleach) in a gallon of water is cheap and effective. 

The Corpse Flower
Sir David Attenborough next to a corpse flower.  
I would like to take this time to state that David Attenborough is one of the coolest people. Ever.

With a name like "corpse flower", you've got to wonder why more people don't use them in weddings.  It might be because a six foot flower pinned to your lapel is hard to walk with.  The corpse flower is indeed the largest flower in the world, with the record for the largest individual being nine feet tall.  It might also have to do with the fact that the corpse flower smells like rotting flesh in order to attract pollinators. Flies and beetles, detecting the smell of a rotting animal, will fly to the source in hopes of depositing their eggs.

What is especially amazing about the corpse flower is how it spreads its eau de cadaver. Growing in dense Sumatran forests, the corpse flower ensures that its siren scent travels far and wide by growing a large delivery device (the flower) that produces smelly steam which rises in the jungle night.  In one study, a corpse flower that was air temperature (68 degrees F) reached an astounding 90 degrees and held that temperature for over four hours.  Apparently if you find yourself suffering from hypothermia in a Sumatran forest, just go snuggle up with a giant flower that smells like a dead thing (Of course that's assuming you can find one; they only bloom every one to three years).

The striped skunk may be trying repel animals and the corpse flower attract them, but let's face it, both strategies stink.

1 comment:

  1. I will have you know that if I could illegally download the Phillies font (Scriptwurst), I would. However, it's proprietary and not available online.

    THAT stinks.