The Porcupine on the A.T.

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThe porcupine – the pincushion of the woods. What a great animal! I think it shows the creativity and sense of humor of God. The porcupine is a rodent but like no other rodent in the world – you will never mix it up with a beaver, a muskrat, or a ground hog. The most recognizable and remarkable feature of the porcupine is its quills. A porcupine may have as many as 30,000 quills (a lot to stick you with, my dear). The quills solid at the tip and base are hollow for most of the shaft. The porcupine has quills on all parts of its body, except for its stomach. The longest quills are on its rump; the shortest are on its face.

Porcupine2The porcupine doesn’t receive many hugs but really only uses its quills for self-defense. Despite the stereotypes of the cartoons, the porcupine cannot shoot its quills. Fortunately, the porcupine is not an aggressive animal and it will only attack if it is threatened. But, if the porcupine hits an animal or a thru-hiker with its quills, the quills become embedded in the flesh. Body heat, unfortunately, makes the barbs expand and they become even more deeply embedded in the victim’s skin with an increase in discomfort (another reason to keep your cool as a trail hiker).

The good-natured porcupine can be found on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, New York and New England. It is primarily a salad lover as it dines on leaves, twigs and green plants like skunk cabbage and clover. It often climbs trees to find food and, in the winter, it may eat bark. The porcupine is mostly nocturnal, but will sometimes forage for food during the daylight hours.

Bad news: when the baby porcupine is born it has its quills (this could give “labor” a whole new meaning). Good news: the quills are soft. They harden about an hour after birth. The baby will start to forage for food after only a couple of days and will stay with its mom for about six months.

porcupine 1Home sweet home for the porcupine is usually in caves, decaying logs, or hollow trees. They don’t hibernate, but they tend to be homebodies during bad weather. I would not have guessed this, but these rodents are good swimmers – who would have guessed – the hollow quills help keep the animal afloat. They are also excellent tree-climbers and, in fact, they spend much of their time in trees – talented little critters.

The porcupine possesses a wide variety of calls and expresses itself with several distinct sounds including moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks and tooth clicking. Camping next to a dysfunctional family of porcupines could result in a sleepless night – particularly the shrieks and tooth clicking! Although this would be better than trying to snuggle up with one on a cold evening.


Categories: Appalachian Trail, Backpack, Thru-Hike, Trail | Leave a comment

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