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A colleague has a family story that if confronted by a skunk, if you can get its rear feet off the ground, it's unable to release its foul-smelling spray.

Evidence for or to the contrary?

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    I dunno, that family story sounds more like a family prank than anything else. If it's not true, you're in a perfect position to get a face full of skunk stink; if it is true, you're likely to get your shins bitten or clawed by an upset, upside-down skunk.
    – Tacroy
    Feb 21, 2013 at 0:52
  • Ummm..... isn't the spraying technique for some, basically, consist of doing a handstand to properly target with spray? Seems like a joke-story to make it more likely to get people sprayed. popsci.com/science/skunk-handstand-before-spray Mar 24 at 21:00

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I found a couple of sources indicating that skunks can spray with their feet off the ground:

Skunk Fact Sheet from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources:

Contrary to popular myth, skunks can spray even when being held off the ground by its tail.

Dealing with Skunks, produced by the University of Nebraska:

[S]kunks can spray when their feet are on the ground or not...

I would consider them reliable. Both are produced by reputable organizations that deal directly with wildlife. This isn't a very hard thing to ascertain, since all you need is one counterexample.

If you search the internet, you will also find lots of anecdotal evidence of people personally attesting that they have been sprayed by skunks in just such a position. These sources may not meet the evidence standards of this site, but they are definitely enough to stop me from picking up a skunk.

Incidentally, an acquaintance of our family believed a related myth: "a skunk can't spray in a trap because it can't put its tail up." He personally discovered that this was untrue.

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Your colleague has this very backwards.

Spotted skunks specifically do a (very adorable) handstand and spray while upside down. If you see a skunk with it's hind legs off of the ground, assume that it is in the "loaded" position.

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  • You should always assume "loaded" until you have verified yourself... wait, that was firearms. :-D
    – DevSolar
    Mar 23 at 12:31

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