Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Porcupine sign

I. Love. Porcupines.

They are unique, mild mannered, CUTE, and one of my favorite mammals to observe.

Porcupine caught on camera trap in Soldotna, Alaska
I became enamored with them a year or so ago. I had a fairly large writing assignment ecology course that I was taking at the time. We had to pick a plot of land, and do a complete survey of it. All species of plants, animals, fungus, soil types, climate, elevation, aspect, slope, values, etc. I think that paper was 18 pages long. Then we had to write another paper selecting just one facet of our plot, and expound upon that. I chose the North American porcupine. They are found in the Finger Lakes of NY. Just apparently not as frequently in the Northern half, where I lived. I received teasing and jabbing about how I was chasing down a locally "mythical" animal. Whatever! I then began my quest to find the "elusive porcupine".
Porcupine climbing a tree in Soldotna, AK
And actually- porcupines are anything BUT elusive. They are conspicuous, slow-moving, and have an attitude. My very first porcupine sighting was in Montana over 10 years ago. Ok, so that doesn't count. My next several sightings were all in Alaska this past summer. Nope, they don't count either.

Then I've seen 2 dead porcupines this past fall. One less than a mile from my house, and the other on the side of the road in NE Massachusetts.

Each time I spot one, dead or alive, I think to myself "HA! I told you they were he....oh. Wait. I'm not in Ontario County. Or even in NY."

I've not given up on seeing them in the Finger Lakes, just set it on the back burner for now since I don't live in the area.

Porcupine in Soldotna, AK
My past two blog entries have been about the Wildlife Techniques course I'm taking this semester. The most recent of the two entries explains wildlife sampling techniques. At the end of our lab session, our teacher took us on a short walk to see something "really cool", as he put it. I'm down to learn about anything "really cool" wildlife related, especially on a gorgeous morning in the snowy woods.

Where did he bring us? To a porcupine denning and feeding site!

Porcupine den in a hole in a dead conifer tree. He may or may not have been home when we were there!
It was too high for us to see in his front door.

Ahhhh! Porcupine scat! I love scat. It's usually easily found, or more easily than the animal itself.
And porky poop was on my bucket list...check!
Porcupines are one mammal that has no regard for a clean den. Many other animals, including our domestic pet dogs, don't like to "mess" where they sleep. Not porcupines. There was scat spilling out of that hole, littering the forest floor. If this den happened to be on the ground, allowing for no place for scat to fall...the den would have been full of scat.

At first glance, this looks like a pretty snowy forest picture.
But to someone who yearns for porcupines...this is gold. All of this twigs and debris you see on the ground, are hemlock twigs, "nip twigs" is what I call them (I think I read that somewhere). Porcupines will hang out in a tree, and gnaw off the bark of a branch or twig to get at the cambium below. The keep moving out and out the branch until it can't support it's weight anymore. Then, they sometimes nip it off. This is a really important favor that porcupines unknowingly pay to other animals. Other herbivores (deer, rabbits) who can't reach vegetation in the tree tops, have been known to visit porcupine trees and browse the off castings.

A "nip twig" with obvious signs of cambium feeding.

I was so excited, and no one else seemed to even care! I think I even smacked the arm of the guy standing next to me when he handed me that twig above and exclaimed "NO WAY!". He looked startled and let it go.

I'm not sorry that porcupines and their sign excite me. I do apologize for hitting you though :)

Maybe I should set up a camera on this site???


  1. Passion and excitement about what we do in our days, that makes us who we are. No apologies are necessary, I do not know much about these spiny creatures, so must do some Google research.My education seems to be taking me to different areas each week. thank you for sharing, I do enjoy it so much. Greetings from Jean

  2. I have only seen one porcupine before and that unfortunately was dead on the side of the road. I certainly would like to see more and read more about them so post away if you like.

  3. It would be awesome if you put a camera up at this site! I would love to see if there is any kind of follow up with it.
    Also, your title banner picture is phenomenal!

  4. With your love of Porky's....you should really check out Uldis Roze's book "The North American Porcupine" (if you haven't already). Great book about their natural history and ecology (from physiology to ecological interactions). Good enough that it's hard to put down, once you've started it....

    1. I have not heard of this book, but I will look for it! I love a good book, thanks.


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