Understanding porcupines | Living the Country Life

Understanding porcupines

How does one porcupine interact with another? Very carefully! Porcupines are not aggressive animals but if you see one up close, don't make it mad.
Photo courtesy Northrup.org

Radio interview source: Yvonne Barkley, Associate Extension Forester, University of Idaho

The porcupine is the second-largest rodent in North America after the beaver. But it's not their size that scares me; it's the quills!
Yvonne Barkley is an associate extension forester with the University of Idaho. She says the native range of the porcupine includes all of the Western, Northern, and also the Northeastern U.S. They live in forests and hang out in trees. 
Porcupines are herbivores, but when ground vegetation is scarce, munch on the moist insides of trees, sometimes killing them. 
Barkley says they are also notorious for chewing on some rather unusual items.
"Anything that has been handled, so leather, canoe paddles, ax handles, the arms on deck furniture, anything that's kind of salty, has had maybe human sweat on it," she says. "So, anything like that they will gnaw on because they're after the salt."
If you find a porcupine grazing on your canoe paddles, don't grab the critter. Barkley says porcupines have soft hair on their bellies, but on their back, sides, and tail are 30,000 quills that will leave a lasting impression on the unfortunate aggressor.  
"When a porcupine is startled, the quills will actually stand up, but they do not shoot the quills," says Barkley. "They are unable to actually shoot quills at somebody, they're very loosely attached so the least contact with a quill will cause it to come off and embed. They have barbs along them, so they do stick and will work themselves in when they're moist."
Native Americans used quills for decorative beading, jewelry, and baskets. Barkley says the soft porcupine hair is revered by the fly-fishing industry. 

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