Posts Tagged ‘quills’


It’s not unusual to see porcupines as roadkill.  I’ve often seen them high up in trees, sometimes a few together.  But this morning, I managed to see a couple very close up along the Salt Marsh Trail.  This male was gazing into the rising sun and didn’t seem too disturbed by my presence.

porcupine back and front

The quills on his back looked sharp and plentiful.  An average adult has about 30,000 of them.  As he turned around I could see his vulnerable underbelly.  Some predators, such as fishers, are adept at flipping porcupines over to reveal this soft spot.  Quills aren’t thrown, but become embedded in a predator’s skin when the porcupine whacks his tail at them.  The warm body temperature of the recipient makes the tiny barbs on the quills expand, lodging them even more securely into their flesh.

My dog, an Alaskan Malamute and wolf cross, would often bite down on porcupines.  Several times he ended up with the quills lodged on his tongue, on the roof of his mouth and down his throat.  An animal left in this condition in the wild would be unable to eat and die of starvation. 

porcupine on the trail

On the walk back, I noticed the porcupine had climbed down from the tree and was walking along the trail.  I guess he didn’t feel up to a second photo op.

Further along the trail back, I heard some strange sounds coming from a spruce tree.  There, barely discernible among the green needles, was a second porcupine resting on top of a spruce bough.  Somehow, the branch was able to handle its weight. 

porcupine on bough

Porcupines are protected in some areas, as they provide an easy source of food to humans lost in the woods.  They can be killed with a quick whack on their nose with a stick.

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High vet bills for quill extraction were a huge incentive for me to learn how to spot porcupines before my dog did.  On walks in the woods, my eyes became extra keen at finding baby porcupines on the ground.  Their tiny quills are especially difficult to remove from a dog’s mouth.

porcupinetreeAs I no longer have a dog, I’m not on the lookout for porcupines as much as I used to be while walking in the woods.  However, it’s pretty hard to miss this fresh evidence of their activity just behind my home:  fresh bark chips on the ground  below a girdled trunk.  Unfortunately, the Balsam Fir at left will die because its bark has been nibbled all around the circumference.

Porcupines breed in autumn and give birth to one baby in the spring.  Within a week this little pincushion is already chewing on the inner bark of trees.  Favorites are softwood trees and the twigs on birch.  Tamarack trees are considered especially tasty. 

Porcupines are also attracted to the salt left on wooden tools that are handled by humans with sweaty hands.  The salt on roads also attracts them to highways, making them a frequent item on the roadkill menu.  They are slow movers and consequently an easy target on the ground.

The last time I saw a porcupine was last fall along the Salt Marsh Trail.  It was mid morning and three of them were dozing, each on separate limbs up in an apple tree, right next to the trail.  Mostly nocturnal creatures, they had probably snacked on apples the night before.

Porcupine and Birchbark Quill Box

Porcupine and Birchbark Quill Box

Before Europeans settled here in the 1700s, the Cow Bay area was considered a prime summer hunting and fishing spot for the Mi’kmaq tribe.  Considering the number of porcupines in this neck of the woods, it’s no surprise that the Mi’kmaq are a people known for their artistry with quills.





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