You are walking quietly through a brushy thicket of willow trees, watching for something big and furry, with your senses set to hyper-aware. That prickling sense of being watched comes over you. Something rustles in the branches! It is above you!
Don't worry, it's a porcupine. Unless it falls on you, there is not much to worry about. Just in case, though, don't stand right under it. Porkies are not very good climbers.
Porcupines spend a lot of time in trees, eating yummy spring buds on a willow, or stripping the tops of spruce trees down to skeletons. The trouble is that they fall out of trees pretty often, too, and they don't bounce very well. No, I don't know if they poke themselves with their quills when they land.
See those red teeth? That's not from poor oral hygiene. Porcupines have a special coating on their teeth so that they can gnaw on wood. In the winter they often eat the inner bark of trees.
Porkies also gnaw on axe handles and other sources of salt.
A friend told me of a porcupine chewing on her house siding. She decided to transplant the large rodent. She put an inverted trash can over the porky, gently slid a piece of plywood underneath, and tipped the porky into the can. Then she moved it twenty miles out the road to better porky habitat than a suburb.
Oh looky! The buds are greener on the other side.
Hm-m, morning hair? Spiky Mohawk?
Porky acrobatics here...
This porcupine is showing it's vulnerable underbelly. It is one of the few places on the critter that predators can claw or bite without being pierced by hundreds of sharp quills.
On the ground, porky high gear is not very fast. When threatened, porcupines usually put their back to the danger, and sometimes whip their tail around. Domestic dogs seem to be the only animal that doesn't know better than to move boldly in on the thirty thousand quills that one porcupine is armed with. Dogs are are also known to go back for revenge on the porky before the painful quill-pulling-party hangover has worn off.
Those quills are barbed, so they continue to work in deeper if they are not removed. Since the quills have an air pocket inside, they are easier to pull out if the end is clipped off first.
Our new buddy has decided to take the slow way down.
It is unwritten law in Alaska that porcupines are only used for survival food. They are slow enough that a person can run one down and kill it with a stick. I know, that sounds gruesome, but hunger is a powerful motivator if you are lost in the woods for a couple of days.
Uh-oh, right hind foot is slipping. ..
Porcupine quills are used for artwork, jewelry, and embellishment on garments. Throwing a blanket over a porky is one way to carefully harvest some quills without harming the porky.
Oh whew! Got a grip on the willow trunk again, but it was a hair-raising scare.
On very rare occasions I have heard porcupines sing. It is an eerie, plaintive sound that runs right down your back on a moonlit night. And yet, I long to hear it again.
This porcupine is about to disappear into the brush. Happy travels Little Porky!
Lots more wildlife posts in the Alaskan Critters index!