The biology of stink

Since returning to Seattle, I've been thinking about what makes animals smell anything but sweet. Some recent vet science and associated folksy conversations got that thought bubbling. What really made me take notice was the paired timing of a NYTimes "Science" section piece earlier this week on that particular trait. Given that it's also Groundhog Day, I'm today pondering what makes certain animals so darn, well, funky. I'm sure Punxsatawny Phil has a wholly unnatural grooming regimen given how pristine and camera ready he always appears when hauled from the ceremonial stump in Pennsylvania (in case you missed it, America - 2012 will feature an extra six weeks of this weird year's version of winter). But run across a groundhog in the wild and it would surely give off a bit more than a cutesy pose. I think anyone who's ever crossed or even just considered in passing the skunk has the anecdotal equipment to know how certain animals can really musk it up. I grew up surrounded by - or obliviously steeped in - one such brand of powerful stench. And as any farm kid will tell you, the stink signature of certain animals can be dissected and discerned from a mile away. Much more so if you happen to be driving anywhere through farm country in the middle of summer. It's the chemistry of those individual stink signatures that I'm currently sniffing around. That's what passes for fun 'round these parts.