Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Backyard Nature - The Porcupine

The porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America behind the beaver. Its spiny quills, used for defense, make it a very recognizable creature and one not to be tormented. There are about 30 different species of porcupine throughout the world, with the common North American porcupine arriving around 3 million years ago.
North American porcupines primarily live in the coniferous forests located in the Northwest part of the continent. At up to 35lbs in weight they are quite large for a rodent and their eyesight is poor. They usually den in a rocky area or a hole in a tree, and in summer months they will often sleep in trees.
Porcupines have thousands of quills, which are spiny hairs that lay down most of the time but can be raised to protect the animal if it feels threatened. If struck, the quills easily detach from the porcupine’s body and can become lodged in the attacker. It has been documented that predatory animals such as wolves and fishers have actually died due to wounds from porcupine quills, most likely due to infection.
Porcupine quills

With such an effective defense system the porcupine has no need for the safety of a herd and can thus live a very solitary life. Primarily nocturnal, porcupines spend most nights eating twigs, roots, stems and vegetation in the summer months or pine needles and tree bark in the winter. Far from graceful, porcupines frequently fall out of trees. Being fairly heavy and tempted by vegetation on small branches, it is not uncommon for a porcupine to take a tumble. Luckily, the porcupine has antibiotics in its own skin to prevent infection if it’s stuck with one of its quills.

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