Thursday, January 24, 2013

Porcupine

By Selected Pixels
A porcupine is one of those animals you don't mistake for anything else. When one stepped out of the forest and waddled across the road in front of my truck, there was no doubt who that pigeon-toed creature was, even though long yellowish hairs hid most of its quills. 

A porcupine has thirty thousand quills (yeeps!) but it's a peaceful creature that typically tries to flee attack. If it's prevented from doing so, it keeps its back to the threat, and raises its hair to reveal all those nasty quills. When attacked, its rear feet stamp about and the tail thrashes, embedding the spines as they make contact with boot, leg, snout, or paws. Although the animal can't "throw" its quills, they are so loosely connected to the skin that some may be flung off by furious swings of its tail.

Porcupines tend to be loners, but they seek the opposite sex during the fall mating season. A courting couple might stand up on their hindlegs and touch noses, which is cute as the dickens. Then comes the tricky part. The old joke goes: "How do porcupines make love?" The punchline--"Verrrrrry carefully"--is not far wrong. They mate with the male behind the female, after she has conveniently lifted her tail over her back. This allows the male to rest a steading paw or lean against a non-bristly surface.

Seven months later, the female is ready to birth a single baby (rarely, two). This raises the second prickly how-do-they-do-that question. The baby (endearingly called a porcupette) is covered by a fetal membrane, and its quills are soft. They dry and harden shortly after birth.

Have you ever seen a porcupine? Or maybe its quills embedded in a dog you love?

2 comments:

  1. We had a horse that nosed a porcupine once. We had to take it to the vet to be anesthetized before they could pull the quills out. It was a timid horse for the rest of its life. I got a very few porcupine quills in my bare foot and leg once, too. Stood too close to the poor creature. Best if you clip the end off the quill so they will deflate a bit before you grab each one with pliers and jerk it free from the flesh. The iodine hurt worse than the initial injury.

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  2. Yeah, the quills have several dozen teeny barbs that expand from the moisture and heat of the victim. Yeeks.

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