June 9, 2011 —
Lately, I have been lucky to encounter three different porcupines during walks in the Ten Mile River area. The passive and slow-moving woodland inhabitant is a treat to see, as its inability to flee quickly or to harm the respectful observer allow for close study of its unique characteristics.
The most obvious are its quills, which are specialized hairs, covering the upper parts and sides of its body, head and tail. One to four inches long, they are yellow, cream or white, tipped with black and lined with foam-like air cells. One porcupine can have up to 30,000 quills, with needle-shaped tips covered with hundreds of overlapping scales that slant backward and act as barbs.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), when a quill lodges in tissue, actions of the victim’s muscle fibers engage the tips of the scales, drawing the quill inward up to an inch a day.
Adult porcupines can grow to 30 inches in length, weigh up to 20 pounds and have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. They den in caves, rock crevices, hollow logs and trees, deserted fox dens, brush piles and abandoned buildings.
Porcupines can swim, are vegetarians and crave salt. As such, they may use their four orange incisors to gnaw on objects that have been in contact with human perspiration like tool handles, ropes, work gloves and leather boots.
Porcupines grunt, groan, shriek, bark and whine, especially during breeding season in September through November. Courting may include rubbing noses, chattering teeth, walking on hind feet or displaying weaving body movements. Females give birth in April, May or June to 10-inch “porcupettes” which weigh about a pound and are fully furred and able to see.
Chuck Fergus of the PGC has prepared a highly informative series of Wildlife Notes that appear on the PGC’s website. See the one about porcupines at www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=9106&mode=2&PageI... .