This newborn porcupine is about a foot long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, weighs roughly a pound and has quills about one-inch long. It will nurse from its mother for the next two months, but within two weeks will be feeding on vegetation as well. Because its offspring is precocial (capable of traveling and feeding on its own soon after birth), the porcupine’s mother provides care for her one offspring only for a week or two before leaving it to fend for itself.
It’s not easy being a female porcupine. You mate in the fall and are either pregnant (7 months) or lactating (4 months) for the next 11 months before you have one month’s break and begin this cycle all over again. This time of year porcupines are giving birth to one young that is covered in fur and quills and weighs about a pound. The young porcupette is born headfirst in a sac, in order to protect the mother from quill damage. Its quills are soft at birth, but harden within an hour. (Thanks to Kay and Peter Shumway for photo op.)
Contrary to their name, fishers seldom eat fish. While they prey on a wide range of animals and even plants, their preference is for small mammals (80% of their diet), snowshoe hares and porcupines. Because fishers are well equipped to kill porcupines, and because there is little competition for them, porcupines are an important prey of fishers –up to 35% of fisher diet samples contain the remains of porcupines, as this photograph of fisher scat attests to. There is no mistaking the bumpy porcupine foot pads (and quills)!
Two nights ago good friends called to report that an animal had been screaming in their woods for about five hours, and asked if I knew what creature sounded like a human baby crying. Because I am naturally curious, I had to see for myself what was making this commotion, so I headed over to the woods by their house. It was immediately apparent from the cries that whatever was making them was in the forest canopy. Looking up, you could see the leaves moving quite dramatically, and then suddenly, WHUMP! A large porcupine fell out of the sky and onto the ground a mere 10 feet from where we stood. It’s hard to say who was more surprised, the porcupine or the humans who narrowly escaped having a porcupine fall on their heads. Upon close examination, it appeared that the porcupine must have tangled with one of its brethren, for several quills were sticking out of its face, with the pointed ends in the porcupine’s skin. Apparently no bones were broken, as it eventually ambled off and climbed a nearby tree. Perhaps a territorial dispute? One can only hope that somehow the porcupine miraculously manages to extract these newly acquired quills.